In speech pathology, there's a term for a specific word/phrase that someone has the habit of using repeatedly in conversation without knowing it. I'm looking for that term.

A couple of things I've eliminated are:

  • Hesitation device
  • Filler word
  • Crutch word

This term is more specific than both hesitation devices and filler words. And crutch words aren't an exact match either, per this definition (source):

They're called crutch words -- a collection of words we fall back on when we've lost our footing while speaking.

These words aren't really used when people have lost their footing; they're just repeated idiosyncrasies people have in their speech.

An example would be: "It's just interesting." I have a friend who rants a lot, and he interjects this phrase all the time. He frequently rants about things which are borderline conspiracy theories, things that his listeners often disregard. I believe he uses the phrase "It's just interesting" to relate more to the people he's talking to by making it seem like he cares less about a certain topic than he'd like to let on.

Another example is "Anyway." I know someone who gossips a lot, and whenever she finishes telling a story, she'll end that topic with "Anyway...." in a similar way to "It's just interesting", as though she's dismissing the story's importance, either because she knows it's gossip and she shouldn't be sharing it or because she knows her audience doesn't really care.

The people in those examples usually use their respective (insert_speech_pathology_term_here) toward the end of phrases or thoughts, but another example which doesn't follow this pattern is "It's funny."

The person who uses this phrase usually starts a new phrase or topic with "It's funny" (always for things that nobody would find funny or interesting). For example, let's call this subject Bob. A sample conversation would be:

Bob: You know, it's funny, two weeks ago I suggested that John do XYZ, and he disagreed... but today, ABC happened, and he immediately did XYZ like I told him two weeks ago.

Me: Hmm... cool.

Bob also uses "it's funny" a lot when he brings up politicians he doesn't like. Ex:

Bob: It's funny, Politican_I_Disagree_With said X, and then did Y. I knew he would.

Me: That's nice.

What's the term for this kind of repetitively used word or phrase?

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    They're pragmatic markers in the sense that they don't add factually to the matrix sentence/s. They come in many flavours. If you're right about the purpose of "It's just interesting" in the situation you describe, it's subclass hedging / currying favour with audience, subsubclass denial of axe to grind. Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 17:49
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    I think, they also qualify as 'qualifers': qualifying clauses that make 'I think', 'It's funny', 'in my humble opinion', the functional equivelents of 'usually', 'perhaps', or "probably'.
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:00
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    Are you looking for something more specific than simply saying it's your friend's verbal tic?
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:31
  • FWIW "It's interesting" and "it's funny" are(or were at least) short and informal versions of "It is interesting to me", and "I find it ironic" . The speaker isn't suggesting that all people should find it interesting and certainly not suggesting that something is a laughing matter. WHAT they were looking to do was not tell you it was funny or interesting but they were sharing a reflection and inviting a reflection of your own. Of course you didn't need to take their bait in framing an argument(especially about politics)but if it were a matter of a work issue, they're asking for your input.
    – Tom22
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:32
  • @Tom22 I definitely agree with the the first part, but in these conversations, it seems that these particular people just want someone to listen. They don't seem to be inviting my reflection or others', and It's not necessarily the case that they're even looking for a reaction. It's as if they just need to know they've been heard. Luckily, these aren't work colleagues. But all of this is tangential to the fact that I still can't figure out what the word is. I like pragmatic markers, and it fits this case, but it's not clicking in my mind as the term I forgot. Same for verbal tic.
    – user109263
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:38

3 Answers 3


I think 'phatic' is the word you're after - Of, designating, or relating to speech, utterances, etc., that serve to establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information, communicate ideas, etc.; esp. in phatic communion n. speech communication of this kind; (also) trivial or purely formal verbal contact.(OED)

  • They are also 'precursors' or scene setters, preparing the listener for the type of information thst is about to follow.
    – Jelila
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 11:40

Palilalia, a complex tic, is a speech disorder characterized by the involuntary repetition of syllables, words, or phrases. Your case histories, however, display milder symptoms and sound more like habit tics.

  • palilalia - a speech disorder in which a word or phrase is rapidly repeated.
  • habit tic - A quirk or habit of behavior or language: common phrases that have become verbal tics.
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    I don't think the OP is looking for a medical diagnosis. :)
    – Řídící
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:43
  • I'm not a speech pathologist, so I'm not qualified to make this distinction, but I struggle with the idea of calling these cases disorders. It's not as though these phrases permeate these people's speech. I just spend enough time with them to notice the nuances of their speech and recognize phrases that come up more often than other people use them.
    – user109263
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 18:43
  • I've seen them referred to as verbal tics - like people who say "as it were" way too often. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:55

Mannerism is the word. A group of verbal or other unconscious habitual behaviors peculiar to an individual.

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    Pretty-good brief definition that would benefit from a linked referrence or two to support it. Commented May 5, 2020 at 11:39