FUNNY SIDE UP: Most irritating sound in language

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Whenever I watch some athlete being interviewed or a bystander commenting on the news or anyone else unaccustomed to public speaking, I always count the number of times they use the word “Uhmmm…” It is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t know what I am going to say next, so while I think about it I will fill dead air with an irritating uhmmm…” (What’s wrong with just a thoughtful pause?)

The second most annoying threadbare ending of a sentence is, “You Know?” (No, I don’t know, and if I did what difference does it make? You just said it anyway and I know now.)

In my corporate/prisoner former life, I once counted the uhmmms in a colleague’s 20 minute presentation: 57. (I nicknamed him Heinz.)

It drives me crazy. Once I notice the speaker saying it, I am immediately fixated, like listening to mourning doves in the morning. (Their excruciatingly repetitive monotone cuts through six pillows on my head.) I know uhmmms shouldn’t bother me, but I was programmed/damaged by my kids when they were growing up:

When my daughter was a rug rat, she liked to poke me in the ribs for hours until I stopped what I was doing – like sleeping.

“What do you want?” I barked, in frustration.

She paused seemingly forever and calmly replied, “Uhmmm …”

Then for the fourteenth time that today (because I was going on a total of 45 minutes of sleep that week) I gave her my long winded lecture on how it was not polite to interrupt anyone when they were busy, like struggling with sleep deprivation whilst losing their mind.

Her response was always the same: “Uhmmm…”

When I stupidly repeated myself, she smiled, nodded with appreciation and affirmed her understanding of the whole situation with, “What?”

Her brother who was 10-years-old at the time, offered a more mature rebuttal: “Why?”

If we had had a third child, I suspect that he or she would have answered with, “When?”

As a team of interrogators, they would have been deadly.

My children, when they were still not at the age of lucidity (Read: Nuts,) used to differ in their style of communication. My daughter dwelled in the abstract compounding her discourse with that earwig utterance:

“Daddy? What’s dat?”

“A power line.”

“Uhmm…what it does?”

“It brings electricity.”

“Uhmm…what’s dat?”

“It gives us radio and TV and lights.”

“Uhmm…and food?”

“No, not food.”

“Uhmmm… and not furniture?”

“No, not furniture.”

“Daddy?” (Poke. Poke.)

“What?”

“Uhmmm…”

The 10-year-old liked to ask obvious scientific questions about things that I should be prepared for:

He: “Why is the sky blue?”

Me: “So it doesn’t clash with the oceans.” (Then I waited for…)

He: “Uhmmm…”

I used to buy him books on general knowledge and then stay up nights worrying that he knew more than me.

When my daughter was in pre-school, she used to mistake similar sounding words. Her teacher’s name – Giselle – was thus Javel. When her brother was four, he was asked to be a ring bearer at his uncle’s wedding. His response was one of deep concern: “Mom, do I have to dress up as a bear?” (I remember being amazed at how young children could misunderstand the simplest request like, “Come here,” repeated 46 times, and yet recite Inky Dinky Spider after hearing it only once.)

Kids are born with the intuitive understanding that parents are ultimately programmable like a PVR. The uhmmm word is used as a tactic to leave a parent hanging, a conspiracy to drive Mom and (especially Dad) nuts by breaking down their will:

“Dad, can I have another cookie?”

“No. Six is enough.”

“Uhmmm…”

“Take the box.”

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