Empty Words: How to Get Rid of Fillers in your Speech

Jan 09, 2020

“I realized the extent of my filler word “disease” when these filler words seeped not only into my daily conversations, but also into written communication with friends and co-workers. I am a literate person, I do not make mistakes in writing, I properly place commas even in chats with friends. One day, during one such chat, I found myself thinking whether I should set off “kinda” with commas in the sentence. That’s when I understood I didn’t even need that word, it felt stupid and out of place. If I pronounce it with a specific intonation, I suddenly feel like a delinquent squatting with a cigarette. Not the best sight in the world, let me say.

I started to pay attention to my speech and was horrified to find out that I regularly use this “kinda” in almost every sentence. I listened to the voice messages I was sending to my friend and distinctly heard other expletives such as “ah”, “errr”, “umm” and many others.

I went even further and re-read all my outgoing e-mails. Can you imagine my frustration after finding multiple e-mails starting with “So”?

That’s when I decided that I had to do something about it, and I googled “how to get rid of the filler word “kinda”.”

– Elena, 27, graphic designer

 

After reading this short story, you might have recognized yourself or one of your friends. Filler words have their name for a reason: they slip into our speech and fill the voids that we don’t fill ourselves. Like the parasites, they “eat” all the meaning, steal time for themselves and interfere with understanding. In this article we are going to tell you how to find filler words in your speech and what those words can say about you. Feel free to learn how to stop using fillers and start to speak clearly.

Contents:

  1. Filler words and other garbage in our speech (with the focus on Russian)
  2. Ten filler words you should get rid of, and their meanings
  3. Why filler words appear
  4. The harm and benefits of filler words
  5. Getting rid of filler words: tips and exercises
  6. Finding replacements for filler words
  7. When you cannot do it alone: the 7Spsy method

 

 

Filler words and other garbage in our speech (with the focus on Russian)

The Russian language is rich with means of expression. It has precise words to convey any thought and to describe any subtle, passionate, or deep feeling. However, in everyday life speech gets filled with garbage words and becomes ineloquent, inarticulate, and confusing. Filler words break the flow of thought and make it much harder for the other person to comprehend us properly. Such filler words do not bear their own meaning, but they tell us a lot about the speaker and their social circle.

 

The problem of “purity” of the Russian language is being widely discussed among native speakers nowadays, but this has happened mostly because of borrowings from English. Words like “flashback”, “follower”, “mainstream”, “background” and “feedback” have already rooted themselves in Russian. This is a natural process, as any language goes through such changes and new words enter due to the emergence of new technology and phenomena. Moreover, each language changes towards increased simplicity. The word “smartphone” is much simpler than “smart mobile phone” or even “portable mobile phone with increased range of functions”.

 

Another aspect of the purity of speech concerns the use of swearing. Some experts even say that swearing is a centerpiece of the Russian language, the very thing that makes it so powerful and evocative. Some swear words are thought to be extremely succinct and expressive. However, the swearing habit has a strong impact on intellectual development and establishing social connections.

 

Let’s stop talking about borrowed words and swearing for a while. After all, unlike filler words, they have specific meanings and sentiments. We must admit that sometimes we cannot fully convey our thoughts without using borrowed words or swearing. However, filler words are truly garbage and they are elements we can easily live without. 

Now where do filler words come from? They come from other parts of speech but lose their initial meaning. The origin words remain in the language with their original meaning as regular parts of a sentence, but filler words just slip into the pauses in speech.

Ten filler words you should get rid of, and their meanings

Even though we barely notice filler words entering our daily speech, each and every one of such repeated words can tell a lot about a person and their character. [1] Here we are going to raise several examples of filler words from the Russian language, with their English counterparts for reference, and discuss the meanings behind them. Please note that there might still be difference in meaning between a Russian word and its English counterpart.

1) “Короче” (“Ok”, “look”)

A person who often uses this word, especially at the beginning of the sentence, conveys their indifference, as if they are in a hurry and wish to finish the conversation soon. They are inclined towards superficial actions. They evade responsibility and postpone decisions and tasks. You might remember that time when you were trying to make plans with your friend, and they told you: “Короче (Ok, look), let’s call each other later and decide then”. No wonder there was no call and no plans after that.

2) “Типа” (“kinda”)

People who favor this word cannot easily handle pauses in their speech, so they try to fill the silence with a cohesive word. This behavior implies shyness, lack of confidence in oneself and inaccuracy of one’s statements. Such people do not like sudden changes. They feel like a fish out of water when they are faced with the need to make decisions and think quickly. They always try to think carefully about every step. Such people are often anxious and easily panic and fall into despair.

3) “Как бы” (“sort of”)

A person who always breaks their speech with this word tries to leave themselves some elbow room. Such a filler word is particularly popular among young people. They feel that they have their whole life ahead of them, and all the conditions are relative. They do not bear any responsibility and expect all the things will simply sort themselves out.

4) “Это самое” (“Well”)

This phrase implies laziness and lack of clear understanding of one’s own speech. People who use it can be unreliable and impulsive. They often try to shift the blame to another, so that they can escape responsibility.

In many cases this phrase is used when a person lacks confidence or cannot grasp the situation quickly enough. That is why it is often heard from students during examinations when they cannot properly answer the question, or from schoolchildren asked to solve problems in front of the whole class. By using this phrase, they try to cover their lack of knowledge. 

5) “Так/как сказать” (“in a way”)

This phrase can also be heard from an undiligent student who will use it to buy some time by pretending – “I wanted to study but forgot, so I scramble for words”. People using this phrase often try to lead another person astray, they try to evade telling the truth, make explicit confessions, or speak about uncomfortable topics. A good example of this can be found in a song by Russian bands “Kasta” and “Brainstorm”. The song tells about the father, who tries to find a way to inform his son where babies come from (here is an English translation of it): “In what way can I tell my son that a chevalier and a lady can, in a way, overcome a barrier?”

6) “На самом деле” (“actually”)

This expression is often used by self-confident and egoistic people. They are convinced that their judgment is true and trust only their own experience. They cannot be told otherwise. Moreover, they like to engage in arguments for the sake of arguing. It is important to them that they have the last word. On the other hand, such people are also determined in their work, and try to get to the bottom of everything.

7) “Вообще-то” (“in fact”)

Impulsive people often add this phrase to their speech. They are impetuous, quarrelsome, and they try to prove their authority and competence. Another similar phrase, a more contemporary one, is “на минуточку” (“wait a minute”). If the format of the articles in our blog allowed for the use of emoji, we would have definitely included here the one with the index finger up. 

8) “Кстати” (“by the way”)

By using this word, people demonstrate their constant desire to draw attention to themselves. “By the way” is their method to enter any conversation, even if whatever they say afterwards is only remotely, if at all, related to the topic. A subvariant of this filler is “кстати да” (“by the way, yes”). This helps a person affiliate themselves with another person’s opinion, but without the need to express their own point of view. Someone who uses this phrase is likely to seek to please people of authority in order to have some personal gain.

9) “В принципе” (“technically”)

Frequent use of this expression implies that a person finds it easier to agree with other people, their opinions, plans and conditions rather than to propose and formulate opinions of their own. Also they don’t like to vocalize any disagreement. Such people create the conditions in which others try to convince them of something. They often respond to propositions of others in a drawling and brooding manner: “В принципе, да, но…” (“Technically yes, but…”). 

10) “Блин” (“crap”)

This word, as a substitute for swearing, is often used by impulsive, inattentive, and absent-minded people. They find it hard to control their emotions, they often bumble and feel guilty, which can lead to anxiety and self-chastising.

Why the filler words appear

After reading the list above you might already be thinking about removing filler words from your active vocabulary. We will talk about this a bit later. First, we are going to look at the reasons why they take a firm hold in our speech.

“Radio and TV broadcast syndrome”

Yves Prigent, a psychologist and communications specialist, considers modern standards of radio and TV broadcast to be the main reason for a sharp increase and propagation of filler words in people’s speech. During broadcasts pauses are unacceptable, so the hosts try to make their speaking times longer and fill it thickly with words that are often fast and meaningless. People catch on to such a habit. They do so not just because they often hear the words during broadcasts, but also because they subconsciously wish to be like the host – a popular and influential person. [2]

Subconscious desire to raise or lower speed

In our everyday lives we rarely think through all we intend to say. A person’s speech is generally quite spontaneous unless he/she has to read aloud and make speeches in their line of work. When we need to think about how to develop our ideas, when we struggle to find a right word or try to hide our incompetence or we are simply feeling anxious, we often resort to filler words. When writing, we usually stop typing, erase some words and type others. When speaking, however, we fill the pauses with interjections in order to give ourselves some time out to think. Or, on the contrary, we try to leap ahead and achieve understanding with the other person by saying something like: “Hey, you, err, do remember when we saw that thing, you know!” 

Sense of belonging to a certain group or age

Each social and professional circle has its own “fancy” words. For example, English borrowings are quite popular among designers. It’s much easier for them to “approve visual” than to search in their heads for a proper Russian phrase. In the nineties the slang for “cool” in Russia was “клёво”, after the year 2000 it became “круто”, and now it’s mostly “топчик”. Such words spread like a disease. They often express a whole range of emotions and can be used in almost every sentence. 

Poor vocabulary

The use of filler words can be both a reason and a consequence of poor vocabulary. Nowadays we learn a lot of information from TV, the Internet and our social network rather than proper literature. On social network specifically, information is often simplified and given in small portions to make it easier for users to consume content. A person who doesn’t read books, doesn’t need to present in front of an audience and has no need to study large volumes of text in their line of work gradually develops poor vocabulary. Under such conditions we become susceptible to using filler words.

Logophobia and glossophobia

Logophobia is the fear of speaking in general. Glossophobia is the fear of speaking in front of an audience. Either can be the reason for the appearance of excessive interjections and filler words in our speech. During conversation or public speaking a person is under stress and, in order to reduce the sense of discomfort and to take some time and organize their thoughts they use certain cohesive words. In the future such words can root themselves in the person’s speech pattern, like stuttering.

The harm and benefits of filler words

First of all, why do we need to get rid of filler words? According to the institute of public opinion “Anketolog”, more than half of Russians are irritated by the use of filler words, and 89% think that well-developed speech is a sign of a high level of intelligence. [3]
 Having a conversation with a person you are close to, and with whom you have a similar style of speech is one thing, but building new relationships and talking to new co-workers or clients is a whole different one. However literate and competent you may be, if you fill your speech with lots of words that carry little meaning you may be perceived as unintelligent with poor vocabulary. The use of such words can irritate the other person and push them towards ending the conversation sooner. Another downside of using frequent filler words is that they expose your insecurity, agitation, and vulnerability to your conversation partner. This may give them room for manipulation. 

Speech overflowing with filler words can become a serious obstacle for career advancement. An employee who cannot have a coherent conversation with their co-workers is quite unlikely to become a top manager. The danger here lies not only in “translation trouble”, but also in an overall decrease in the level of credibility. What will happen if you decide to look for another job? You may have an impeccable CV, you may be a skilled professional, but if you simply cannot articulately present yourself during the interview and speak about your past experience without mumbling, an HR executive will likely doubt your expertise and competence.

 

Finally, filler words can easily interfere with your romantic life. Just imagine, a scenario where a young man approaches a girl and tells her, like in a comedy sketch: “I, err, y’know, kinda, well, like you.” There aren’t many women who would appreciate such mumblings and reciprocate. This example is, of course, exaggerated, but such jokes appear for a reason.

With all the downsides that filler words have, they do, indeed, have upsides. Sometimes they can actually enable comprehension and help us find common ground with another person. People working in creative fields, such as actors, impersonators, and comedians, do need these words to portray distinctive features of the characters they portray. Even for a person of humble origin, the use of filler words is not always a sign of low intelligence or insecurities. If the idea to get rid of filler words crosses your mind rather often, however, then the problem is quite substantial. Ask yourself, “Does the sway of garbage in your speech interfere with smooth communication?”

Getting rid of filler words: tips and exercises

By this point you might already be quite eager to get rid of all the inaccuracies in your speech for good. Let’s look at several pieces of advice and describe the methods that can help you. Prepare yourself, as this is not an easy job to do, but you know that the result will definitely be worth it. 

1) Listen to yourself carefully

First of all, make a list of your personal filler words. Even if you think you know precisely which words you have to fight, write them down anyway. Listen to your outgoing voice messages and look at the recordings of your public presentations if you have any. You might need to expand your list after doing so. 

2) Find allies

Stating your commitment publicly is one of the best motivations to get rid of filler words. Tell your friends or relatives about your commitment. They might want to join you in working on their vocabulary, or they might offer their help in controlling your speech and pointing out any deviations from the chosen path.

3) Introduce penalties

Svetlana Vinokurova, who teaches elocution and public performance, gives this advice to all her students. Create the conditions for yourself, in which you will suffer a penalty for any filler word. For example, tell your partner to snap their fingers any time you say such a word. This penalty can also be monetary, fine yourself a small sum each time. Such simple measures can make the speaker think twice before using the undesirable words. [4]

4) Read more

Take breaks for reading during the day. This will help you to keep your vocabulary sharp. Choose books, magazines, or blogs with long articles. Reading short posts and news articles is not as efficient, it just fosters mosaic thinking. Spend at least 20 minutes a day on continuous reading, without distracting yourself with other activities or gadgets.  

5) Don’t be afraid to be silent

Probably, you are using filler words and drawn-out sounds to fill in awkward pauses in your speech, those which appear when you search for the right words or gather your thoughts. Try to stop doing this. Silence, unless it becomes too long, adds credibility to your speech and gives the other person time to digest its content. Excessive words and interjections, on the other hand, distract from that. A song by Andrey Makarevich describes it perfectly (once again, an English translation of it): 

“Let’s make the pauses in our speech,

Let’s speak and then again get silent.

In such a manner we can reach

The meaning that we all desire.”

6) Prepare your speech

If you have to speak in front of an audience, the best way to prevent the appearance of filler words is to prepare and rehearse your speech properly. Do not leave it to the last minute if you want everything to go smoothly. If you have a fear of the stage or public speaking, find ways to overcome it.

7) Broadcast yourself

If you don’t have to speak in front of an audience in your daily life, a video blog or short stories on social network can be a good alternative. Find a topic that can be interesting to your friends and shoot short video podcasts, trying to speak clearly and to the point without using unnecessary words. This might seem difficult at first. However, once doing so becomes a habit you will notice the improvements. 

8) Retell literary texts

Retelling literary texts can help you get rid of filler words in your speech. Take, for example, the works of Chekhov. He has a lot of short yet deeply meaningful stories. Read the text several times and try to retell it to your friend, or record your retelling if you’re doing it alone. Be conscious of avoiding meaningless words.

9) Use the method of multiple repeat

Why not to use the “ad absurdum” method? Some people can get rid of undesirable words by continuously repeating them. The point is this: when you use a filler word often in your daily speech, you might not be noticing and recognizing it all the time. However, when you make yourself say it again and again, the word will start to irritate you more and more. Later, this can have a positive effect on your speech.

10) Expand your vocabulary

A rich vocabulary is perceived as a sign of a good education and helps improve self-confidence. Make yourself a dictionary where you can note interesting expressions you’ve heard from your friends, co-workers, and media persons. Install an app that will send you a notification each day with a new word and its meaning. You might find that you already know some of the words, but others will be completely new to you. It is important not only to memorize the new word or expression, but also to think about in which daily life situations you can use it in.

Finding replacements for filler words

Like with other bad habits, you can get rid of filler words by finding alternatives to replace them. Olga Severskaya, linguist and the author of the book “Govorim po russki” (Let’s speak Russian), recommends replacing compulsive short verbiage with longer collocations and expletives. [5]

 

By adding such expressions you can both rid yourself of filler words and make your speech more intelligent, smooth, and composed. However, tread wisely for moderation is the key. If you start spewing sophisticated expressions as often as you were doing with empty words, this can also be off-putting.

When you cannot do it alone: 7Spsy method

“There is a lot of advice on the internet about getting rid of filler words and swearing. I tried to follow it and even made a bet with my co-worker for a large sum of money that I will survive a month without swearing at the workplace. Also, for each “err”, “well”, “kinda” I put a quarter into a piggy bank. In the end, I lost a bet and broke a lot of paper money into coins to put into the piggy. My bad habit has, however, remained intact.”

– Evgeniy, 35, auditor

What should you do if all known ways to get rid of filler words have been ineffective? Most likely, this happened because the use of those words stems from another underlying and hidden problem. It is important to determine when, where and with whom you use compulsive expressions, and also what they can tell about your personality and character.
This habit of using filler words or swearing might have appeared because of another dependence or addiction. A modern method of behavioral therapy, the 7Spsy behavioral modification technique, can help you find the true reason and improve your speaking habits. (link to landing)
 7Spsy is a registered method based on the works of I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc. Sessions of the 7Spsy behavioral modification are held online. This method helps you discover your hidden mindset and get rid of persistent habits and addictions within 6 weeks. All work is conducted in absolute confidentiality. Our psychologist will keep in touch throughout the whole course and you can use any means of communication you prefer: a phone, an online chat or e-mail.

As a result, you will change your manner of speech, stop using garbage words and learn to speak freely and smoothly. 

 

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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