Some people use specific words out of habit that they have used since childhood. Without their knowledge, these words will be the first to come out of their mouths. Examples of what I'm talking about include actually and what the fuck.

Is there a particular term to describe such words? I've searched for it but failed to come up with anything.

  • It's not clear what phenomenon you are looking for a word for. I take it you don't just mean "swearing".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 16:46
  • I edited your question for clarity, @Abhishek; this seems to be what you were asking.
    – user13141
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 16:53
  • 2
    Belatedly, I regret having voted to close. The word OP is looking for is filler Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 17:14
  • 1
    Voting to reopen. Though the original was badly worded, I think there was a legitimate question there.
    – user13141
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 17:15
  • @Abhishek: Please provide examples that illuminate what you are trying to find out.
    – Robusto
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 17:45

4 Answers 4


I've heard the term verbal tic used in this context, for habitual expressions that the speaker jams into sentences irrespective of meaning or sense; I overheard one a man say:-

"To be honest with you, Spurs won 2-0. You know what I mean?"

As no-one could doubt his honesty in reporting a football score, or entertain any doubts as to the meaning, I'd guess this is the sort of phrase you are interested in. He'd add one (or both) of those little fragments to practically everything he said.


It's not a linguistic term, but I think the phrase habitual vocabulary conveys what you're looking for.


I'd say impulse words or reflex words. Sometimes mothers say their kids regurgitate bad language, and regurgitation comes when the gag reflex activates. So..., 'reflex' words. And, when you do something on impulse, it happens automatically. For example, when you step on a nail, you jump up into the air, 'on impulse'/automatically. If you impulsively yell 'wtf', then you're having an 'impulse reaction', thus 'impulse words'.

You might also look into some words like instinctive and involuntary, or even subconscious and intrinsic, to build a broader syntax.

There's also an off chance you're thinking of Freudian Slips, or 'slips of the tongue'.

  • Freudian Slips, however, can be reflected in various ways. You can have a Freudian Slip of your memory, which causes you to forget something that is semi-sexual, for example. Like, if you forget someone's name because it's Rich, but he goes by his nickname... Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 4:02

Vestigial Language. These can be words that serve as a reflex more than literal meaning. "Vestigial behavior" are behavior/actions that are no longer necessary (think, goosebumps), but we use them to communicate because they express what we need. I often "Oh my God" but I am not giving praise--it's stated out of lament, excitement or shock. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/vestigial

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