Like Um: Conversational Ice Picks

I think I’m officially old now. I’ve discovered that, for the most part, I’m not overly fond of 20-somethings and under.

Disclaimer time. This post is probably going to come off sounding like generalized generation bashing, but I assure you that’s not my intent; I hate all generations equally. Also, I’m sure I was an annoying 20-something, too, so in essence, I hate myself. At least, I hate my former self, because you know what? Kids these days are annoying. By kids, I mean anyone who is young enough to be drafted (under 25).

To all you 20-somethings out there who are prepared to be offended, I don’t mean you, because you obviously have excellent taste in blogs and I’m sure this post doesn’t apply to you in any way. Cheers! Anyone who reads FOG is clearly of discerning character and not normal. You can be offended all you want, but this post is not generalized generation bashing because I have examples!

Example 1

This week, just like last time I was on jury duty, I was subjected to another set of blathering 20-somethings at lunch. It was a rather warm day and there wasn’t much shade to be had, so those of us not inclined to getting skin cancer were all huddled together under the trees. I’m not a fan of huddling, especially with total strangers, but I’m also not a fan of skin cancer, having had it twice, so huddle I did.

I was sitting next to a woman talking on the phone with a contractor doing something to her house when two 20-something females sidled up beside us. They were dressed in court-appropriate suits, yet chose to sit on the grass. Good on them. Unfortunately, the shaded grass happened to be all up in my metaphorical shit, so I had no choice but to eavesdrop on their conversation since I had forgotten to bring headphones with me.

I generally feel it’s alright to eavesdrop when it’s crystal clear to the eavesdroppee that the eavesdropper has no other choice. We were in public and they were sitting within easy punching distance. Plus, I was there first. It’s not creepy to eavesdrop when you were there first. I’d really rather have not heard their conversation anyway, since within about five minutes, I had to get up and move before I made use of the proximal punching distance.

Anyway, these two 20-something girls started off with a conversation about what kind of law they would like to pursue, making it evident that they were still in lawyer school and weren’t lawyers yet, but doing some sort of internship at the court. One said she’d like to do civil, while the other argued in favor of corporate law.

Then they started talking about boys. Ugh. This is about the time when I felt the need to move. Peppered throughout their ridiculous legato conversation was a staggering number of “like” and “um,” making them seem like total idiots. These women would one day be full-fledged legal professionals, maybe. They would both be responsible for some sort of lawyering, yet they couldn’t get through a single sentence without “like” and “um.” Granted, neither of them was going into criminal law so they weren’t responsible for anyone’s life, but I still found that concept scary as hell.

Example 2

Yesterday, I went out to lunch with a friend. We sat, ordered and sipped delicious coffee beverages waiting for our food to arrive, when right next to us, they seated six 20-something males. They talked about nothing but video games the whole time. Unfortunately, I know what they were talking about because there were six of them and they kept talking over each other making it damn near impossible to hear what my friend was saying.

They also used “like” and “um” in every damn sentence, sometimes multiple times. One of them would start talking, e.g. “The new Wii version of Hello Kitty in Space is like so rad it’s um like farting rainbows.” And before that sentence was finished, another of them would interrupt with, “No way, dude! Space Unicorns on Ice is like a way more um realistic simulation of like what it’s like to like ice skate if you’re um a unicorn like in space.”

I prefer Hello Kitty Pirates myself.

I prefer Hello Kitty Pirates myself. The ice skating simulation is rad.

And so it went, until we were done with our now ruined meal and could mercifully leave earshot. One thing I noticed about them was how quickly they were all speaking. Perhaps it’s just because there were six of them talking over each other, but they were talking as fast as I type, which is pretty darn fast.

My friend and I eye rolled and discussed how ridiculous they were. Their conversation harkened back to the jury duty 20-somethings and I realized that the girls were talking excessively fast as well. I guess when it’s more important that you get words out of your mouth right now than paying attention to the quality of those words, you end up with a lot of “like” and “um.”

And then I said to my friend that it seems to me that it’s sort of a generational thing. Never once have I heard a retirement age couple out on the town talking about their retirement plans while employing excessive “like” and “um.” It seems to be more of an age thing, which I guess makes me an ageist.

I don’t recall, but perhaps when I was 20-something, I spat words out of my mouth so fast that I had no idea what they were, too. Perhaps I was a “like” and “um” enthusiast myself. It’s entirely possible. In any event, nowadays, I rarely use “like” outside of similes and Facebook, and “um” is reserved for when I’m intentionally calling attention to something ridiculous, e.g. this picture:



I’ve never been a fan of “like” and “um.” The strange thing is that they usually go together. If someone says “like,” odds are rather good that, before the sentence is over, there will be an “um,” or vice versa.  These sentence fillers generally mean that the person speaking is formulating their words as they go instead of thinking before they speak. If you actually think before speaking, there’s really no need to pause in the middle to come up with the rest of it, and therefore you don’t really need conversation placeholders.

The worst part of “like” and “um” is that, once you notice it, that’s all you hear. It’s kind of like having an old-fashioned, non-digital clock on the wall. You can go days, hours or months without noticing the second hand ticking around its infinite circle, but once you hear it, that’s all you notice like a tiny ice pick jammed in the ear every second or so. The more you try not to notice the little ice picks in your ear, the more you do. Enough noticing can drive you mad in a Chinese water torture sort of way.

“Like” and “um” are conversational ice picks to me. They are the typo in the middle of a published book. They are the fart in the middle of a lecture. Overuse of “like” and “um” completely takes me out of your sentence and I miss the point of your words. I don’t hear the meat of your sentence, all I notice is the filler.

I apologize to any 20-somethings or “like” and “um” enthusiasts this may have offended, but really, people, is thinking before dribbling words out of your mouth such an awful concept? Conservation is a beautiful thing.

There are 42 comments

  1. NotAPunkRocker

    I admit I am close to 40 now and still use those words way too much. I try to stay on top of it, and always have at work, but sometimes it happens (especially if I am nervous). Thankfully, M hasn’t picked up the habit, or not from what I can tell.


  2. JackieP

    I believe you are right about the ‘umm’ and ‘like’. I don’t recall ever saying it myself at any age, but then I never talked much when I was a teenager. As for now, I don’t remember hearing people my age using those filler words. I would think at 20 or so you should be able to carry on a normal conversation.


  3. Rachal

    Conservation IS a beautiful thing :)
    As a now 50 something, I’m noticing that the inability to speak without a steady stream of “like, ums” seems to be following many people into their 30’s. Yet another reason to stay home.


  4. evilsquirrel13

    I don’t know about like, but I probably use ummm, errr, uhhhh, and all of their cousins quite a bit because I have a hell of a time trying to get what’s in my head to come out of my mouth properly. I’m the same way when I’m typing… I’ll be thinking one word, and type a totally different one… and not even notice it until I’m editing! I’m surprised young people can even have a conversation with each other anymore… junior high kids today don’t even know what it was like to not have texting!


  5. aliceatwonderland

    As soon as I saw the title of this post, I knew I’d like it. I hate 20 somethings too, just on principle. And like you, I’m fairly sure I was an annoying 20 something at one point. Don’t care. I have a 20 something year old coworker with MY name at work and she is so very ENERGETIC and full of IDEAS we should all try cause it was totes great when she was in COLLEGE five minutes ago. So irritating. I can’t wait till she gets old and jaded like the rest of us. She’s exhausting.


  6. Doobster418

    This was, like, a really, um, you know, cool post, dude. I also hate twenty-somethings, but that’s because I am not one and haven’t been one for a long, long time and never will be again.


  7. Corner of Confessions

    I took a public speaking class once , and that was the professor’s main goal. To rid us from using like and yum in our everyday speech. It worked for me until i started working retail. I had to dumb my speech down to converse with co-workers and customers and it’s become a habit. Sigh.


  8. completelydisappear

    This article really helped me understand some aspect of using ‘like’ and ‘um’ in English conversation. To be honest, I have no idea how annoying of Like and Um in English speaking as I am non-native speaker. I rarely use Like but I have to agree with you that whenever I hear someone uses it in sentences, that word is all I can hear. For ‘um’, I started to use it more times than I intend. Usually when I need time to think English sentence before speaking. I think I better be aware of using them in English speaking especially in company meeting.


  9. draliman

    I like um totally Googled Hello Kitty in Space cos it like sounded well cute dude.
    I found a cool video of a 7th grader who launched her Hello Kitty into near space for a science project! Yay :-)


  10. hpen87

    HAHA I must say though, that in any generation you have people who make the rest look worse than they really are. I would say, as being a 27 year old female that most of the people in their 20’s do not act this way. You will always have the few who break the mold. However, I would have added in there the lack of respect, authority, work ethic and morals… HA. I say this because MOST people younger than myself have none of these. I actually hate guys unless they are like 30 because they are the biggest douche bags youll ever meet. I mean that wilthall my heart!! any who, well written good points just wanted to share my views. :) I am new here thanks for the read.


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