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North Hills

Sometimes, figuratively speaking, quite frankly, we say nothing

Dave McElhinny
| Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Almost nobody likes how their own voice sounds when listening to it on a recording. I'd like to think that I have a powerful, James Earl Jones-type voice. But then, every-so-often, I hear my recorded voice and am reminded that it sounds more like Kermit the Frog, combined with Mushmouth from Fat Albert, after burning his tongue on some hot soup.

It's too high for my size and poorly annunciated. I've come to terms with it. But I recently became aware of an even bigger issue about my spoken rhetoric that I cannot tolerate — crutch words.

If I wrote the way I speak, I'd be out of a job.

Crutch words, simply put, are words or a combination of words we use to help keep our verbiage flowing when we don't quite know what to say next.

After giving a recent presentation, on my drive home, I listened to the recording of myself speaking and was horrified. Here's an example of a sentence I uttered.

“To be perfectly honest, the thing is, like, we're literally going to have to, uh, make a few changes, right?”

That's atrocious and was in front of other industry professionals. It's just a bunch of words crammed together. Why didn't I just say, “we need to make a few changes?”

I, like many Americans, have adopted crutch words into my vernacular like verbal ticks that spontaneously pop up in a sentence without my permission.

Buzz words, redundancies and bad habits have infiltrated our spoken language with stealth-like attacks, turning simple conversations into a blizzard of senseless ramblings. Here are a few of the regular culprits that can undermine a conversation.

Starting a sentence with, “to be honest” or “quite frankly” simply indicates that other times you must be lying. Using “for the record” or “mark my words” conveys that whatever you are saying is something permanent, official and could have ramifications. Qualifying a statement by first saying, “Between you and I” or “confidentially” is basically telling that person that everything else you previously discussed was not in confidence and will be shared with everybody you know.

While those are among the most of the overused crutch phrases, smaller wordbumps in the road contain little additions such as, um, uh, like, well, actually, look, literally, basically, actually and essentially.

Like verbal hiccups, crutch words can involuntarily spring up and make even an expert on a subject sound like a stammering buffoon. After mistakenly sharing this affliction with my loving family, they now like to count how many times I say “like” during a conversation. Even my youngest has begun to pile on.

While these don't seem like big things, when you become aware of them and start keeping track, you'll quickly discover, the way I did, that saying “like” 29 times during one dinner is far too much.

So I have decided to make fixing this a priority.

So, mark my words, honestly and figuratively speaking, at the end of the day, for what it's worth, ultimately, just between you and I, like, the thing is, speaking clearly and concisely is going to become a top priority for me, know what I mean?

Dave McElhinny is the North Bureau Chief for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at or via Twitter @DaveMcTrib.

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