FILLERS AROUND THE WORLD.

In this recent thread, Grumbly Stu started grumbling about sloppy public speaking, one element of which (though not the one he was focusing on) was the plethora of filler words like “uh” and “er,” and michael farris made a very astute observation: “One of the things I tell students (learning English as a second language) is: ‘Don’t try to do things in a foreign language that you can’t do in your own.’ This includes space fillers, don’t try to learn to speak without space fillers, learn the right ones and use them appropriately.” So I thought “I’ll bet Wikipedia has an article on fillers,” and sure enough, here it is, with an interesting list of “Filler words in different languages.” Some of the contributors don’t seem to have grasped the difference between filler words and terms like “whatchamacallit” and “thingamajig” (I doubt Afrikaans watsenaam and Hungarian hogy is hívják are used like “uh”), but those are easy to filter out. If your professor hasn’t taught you these valuable if overlooked elements of the language you’re learning, now’s your chance to start sprinkling them into your sentences.

Comments

  1. Looking at that list, I would make one recommendation: if you’re not a native, do not use “allez une fois” in Belgium. People will think you’re trying to make fun of them.

  2. Euh, apparently Dutch doesn’t have any, weet-je?
    (I know it is my moral duty to edit the page, but I am verkouden and not really up to exciting new challenges like that.)

  3. What, no Finnish “niinku” or “tota”? No Slovak “oné” or “tento”? Unbelievable!

  4. In college one lecturer’s filler was clearing his throat. Almost unbearable.

  5. Czech also has “jisto”, clearly.

  6. jr,
    “jistě”, which means “surely, certainly” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used as a filler.

  7. Bulbul, “jistě” sounds a lot like Swedish jusdet, which means about the same. Are they somehow related?

  8. Megkoronáz: highly unlikely, at a glance. What you write as “jusdet” is actually two words: “just det”, meaning “precisely that”, as in “that’s right”. “Just” is from French “juste”, whereas “det”, cognate with “that”, has Indo-European roots. If the final syllable of the Slovakian word has evolved from Old Church Slavonic “tu” (supposed to be with a hacek over it), then those words are related, but I don’t know any Slovakian so I can’t tell.

  9. Sorry, David. I didn’t know the spelling. I think it’s similar in meaning to ‘akkurat’ in Norwegian.
    Though not filler, a word I’ve always liked in German is dingsbums, pronounced ‘dinks-boomps’ and meaning thingamy-jig.

  10. I’m with Grumbly on this one. ‘Humming and hawing’, as it used to be called, that is ‘. . . um . . . er . . . ah’, is the sign of an unprepared mind. Those who can’t speak without making useless noises should not be speaking. Attempting to dignify it with the name of ‘filler’ doesn’t disguise the fact that it is mere inarticulateness.
    Words like ‘thingamajig’ and ‘watchamacallit’ are true fillers; they cover a momentary mental lapse, and of course become more useful as we age. They are not an attempt to cover intellectual unpreparedness.
    I’m damn glad I went to university when lecturers were good speakers and not unashamedly displaying minds of nebulous mush.

  11. In Esperanto, do (‘therefore’) is the most common filler.
    Interesting. Has someone actually studied spoken Esperanto, or has that word been declared a filler by fiat? What are the common filler words in Klingon?
    They don’t show blya as a Russian filler word, which is probably just as well for the sake of decency and all.

  12. Those who can’t speak without making useless noises should not be speaking.
    Depends on the register and the language. In Japanese speaking with filler words isn’t really optional, and attempting to do so sounds very abrupt and wooden to a native speaker (afaik). Teenage Americans also, seems to me, use more filler words (“like”,”ya know”) than necessary in an almost conscious attempt to distinguish their register from adult speech.

  13. Decency on Wikipedia? Ha! (NSFW in Russia, I guess)

  14. michael farris says:

    “In Esperanto, do (‘therefore’) is the most common filler.
    Interesting. Has someone actually studied spoken Esperanto, or has that word been declared a filler by fiat?”
    I can’t say I’ve heard do (more like ‘then’ or ‘so’ than ‘therefore’) used as a filler. I know one speaker who uses ‘chu ne?’ (chu = question particle, ne = no) as a filler. I think I use ‘ni diru’ (let’s say) as a filler. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

  15. I added the two ASL signs I know for ‘um’. But man, ASL needs an unambiguously standardized ASCII system for transcription that’s actually accepted everywhere. David Peterson’s SLIPA, perhaps?

  16. Megkoronáz úr,
    I believe that Swedish just (and Dutch juist and English just etc.) ultimately derive from Latin justus. The trouble with Czech jistě (adverb, the adjective is jistý), Slovak isto, SCMB isti et al. is that they mean both “true, certain” and “the same”. Vasmer traces it to *jьstъ and throws a few cognates around, but does not mention justus. Skok’s “Etimologijski rječnik” insists it’s an exclusively Slavic word, so there you go.
    ‘akkurat’ in Norwegian
    Hey, we got “akurát”, to!

  17. Also, I know this French guy who uses “donc” a lot. My French being what it is, I’m not really sure – does “donc” work as a filler in French?

  18. Those who can’t speak without making useless noises should not be speaking.

    That would certainly make for an interesting day in Parliament.
    /œːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːːː/

  19. There’s anu in Javanese (and Javanese-influenced Indonesian).

  20. marie-lucie says:

    bulbul: I know this French guy who uses “donc” a lot. My French being what it is, I’m not really sure – does “donc” work as a filler in French?
    I think it does for some people, but it is not in itself a filler. I means literally “therefore”, but some people use it much more loosely when transiting (?) from one sentence to another, whether there is a logical link or not.

  21. Adding to what vanya said, I’m a 22-year old American, and I’ve found filler words (for me, mostly “like”, “I mean”, and “um”) to be indispensable when speaking to friends, and even in informal writing (IM conversations, facebook wall posts). At some point, I made a half-hearted attempt to eliminate these words from my speech, before realizing that they played an important role in indicating things like level of formality, amount of criticism intended. In some cases, a sentence lacking an “unnecessary” “um” or “like” feels entirely wrong. Obviously, I try to avoid these words in more formal speech, if I am giving a presentation, and I wouldn’t even think about using them in formal writing, but I do not think they are useless words.

  22. michael farris says:

    “I doubt Afrikaans watsenaam and Hungarian hogy is hívják are used like “uh”), but those are easy to filter out.”
    I wouldn’t be so sure. I can’t speak for Afrikaans or Hungarian, but I’ve heard como se llama (maybe better comosellama) used as a filler in Latin American Spanish.

  23. Those who can’t speak without making useless noises should not be speaking.
    Oh dear. Are you one of those people who opposes phatic communication in general? “Why are you asking me how I am when you don’t want to hear anything but ‘Fine’?” I mean, it’s a valid philosophical stance, but it kind of puts a damper on normal conversation.

  24. Charles Perry says:

    The usual filler in Arabic is ya’ni, literally “it means.” It’s one of the handful of Arab words that foreigners find themselves adopting, along with ma’alaish “that’s OK.”

  25. Yiddish is not accounted for in that page but in my experience the most common filler aside from ə or ɛ is ‘iz’, which means…. ‘is’. But it also means ‘so, then, therefore’ if it’s put before the beginning of a main clause. Which is interesting given the fact that the author of Esperanto was of course a native Yiddish speaker.

  26. michael farris says:

    I’d also say that uh is in some cases acts as a word that changes the meaning of the sentence.
    Compare:
    Excuse me, would you know where the Bland Hotel is?
    Excuse me, uh, would you know where the Bland Hotel is?
    IME most people find the second more polite sounding.

  27. Anyway, aren’t these usually called disfluencies? Or is there, uh, a difference?

  28. I was taught the (Egyptian?) Arabic unholy triad of IBM – in sha’allah, bokra, ma3alesh (God willing, “tomorrow”, never mind). They are indeed useful enough to forcefully insert themselves into your weltansicht.

  29. michael farris says:

    “the author of Esperanto was of course a native Yiddish speaker.”
    It’s more accurate to say that Yiddish was one of his languages. I don’t know if he ever claimed native speaker status. He did claim Russian as his first childhood language but as an adult was more fluent in Polish.

  30. Well, you know. Wikipedia says he was fluent for what it’s worth. There’s even a little number next to that particular claim; I declined to click on it.
    In any case the connection would need much further bearing out. I have no reason to believe that Reb Zamenhof himself had any hand at all in the current disfluencies in Esperanto.
    I’d actually be quite interested to see some kind of timeline on the lifespan of various filler words. I wonder how long they tend to last, relative to other types of vocabulary.

  31. I find Michael Harris’s observation (that, in his experience, people find “Excuse me, uh, would you know where the Bland Hotel is?” more polite than the same utterance without the “uh” and accompanying pause) intriguing. Do you have any thoughts, Michael, as to why this might be ? To my ear, the uh-version just seems to indicate lack of confidence on the part of the speaker, and from a purely personal perspective, seems to add nothing in terms of politeness. If I were seeking to be excessively polite, I might use a modicum of indirection, as in “Excuse me, do you happen to know where I might find the Bland Hotel, please ?”

  32. No, Hat, I can’t say that I dislike phatic communication in general.
    But I wasn’t talking about phatic communication. I was talking about what Z. D. Smith conveniently labels ‘disfluencies’. Excellent word! ‘Um’ and ‘ah’ are used by people who jump into speech without using their minds, in other words they’re reacting to stimulus before they know what they’re going to say. They are certainly not ‘more polite’, as Michael Farris has it. In order to be polite, I avoid the cliche ‘Excuse me!’ at all times and say ‘Pardon (me)’ or ‘I beg your pardon’.

  33. michael farris says:

    Phillip TAILOR,
    I think the ‘uh’ signals reluctance to ask for something. It’s a meta-signal as it were.
    iakon,
    How very nice for you.

  34. I have never heard anybody who successfully eliminated disfluencies from their speech without ending up sounding like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.
    I rather like mine. In fact when I’m on the phone with people from Ireland or Scotland or New Zealand I find my “er”s and “em”s sliding a tiny bit from ə to ɛ.

  35. ma3alesh: While it means “tomorrow”, I was told that “it’s really like mañana, but without the sense of urgency.”

  36. Stephen Shelby says:

    I once knew someone whose first language was Spanish, but she learned English at a young age and had a completely native (Midwestern) American accent. However, instead of saying “um…” or “uh…” should would say “ey…”, which I guess comes from Spanish. Interesting that a filler would be the last remaining influence from a first language.
    Also, when I was learning Nepali, my teachers would often use a word “aba” which I guess is a filler word. Being a German speaker, I would always mistake it for the word “aber,” meaning “but” or “however,” and I would assume that they were correcting me for a second before doing a linguistic double take.

  37. Someone needs to listen to George Soros to pick up on his vocal time fillers and settle the Esperanto question once and for all.
    His first language was Esperanto! (and his surname is a palindrome!)

  38. David Marjanović says:

    dingsbums, pronounced ‘dinks-boomps’

    Absolutely not, no. We don’t do stop insertion into nasal-anything clusters – that would screw up our distinction between plosives and affricates. It’s /dɪŋsbʊms/, if I may pretend that [ŋ] is a phoneme for a moment.

    does “donc” work as a filler in French?

    What m-l said. Think of it as a literal translation of the German also.

    In order to be polite, I avoid the cliche ‘Excuse me!’ at all times and say ‘Pardon (me)’ or ‘I beg your pardon’.

    Strange. I was taught excuse me and pardon were used in different situations. (We had exercises about these and sorry because German has a single word, Entschuldigung, for all three.)

  39. It’s /dɪŋsbʊms/, if I may pretend that [ŋ] is a phoneme for a moment.
    Is it not? It is!
    And I think that loose transcription was probably so performed because in English, progressive voicing assimilation would render that /ɪŋz/—so either it’s actually pronounced /ɪŋz/ or the lack of assimilation (voiced ŋ and unvoiced s) would round so nutty to English ears. Same with /ms/; if that /s/ doesn’t assimilate to a /z/ it either sounds like, or is pronounced as, /mps/. Rapid devoicing, like rapid cabin decompression, causes popping in the ears.
    Mind I’m only going from Yiddish assimilation rules which I’m sure are different; in Yiddish the /g/ would indeed devoice to a /k/.

  40. David,
    As a native speaker of English, I am comfortable with not having any conscious rules about how to choose between “sorry” and “excuse me” (or, though this sounds too old-fashioned or British to be likely to pop out of my mouth) “pardon”. I could try to say what my unthinking rules are, but I’d just be guessing. I’m sure I was never taught it in school. I’m sure that I regard them all as polite expressions.
    Of course, like other polite expressions, they will sometimes fail to please if they are used with irony or with obvious insincerity, or if they mean something different to the hearer. (In some cases “succeed in displeasing” might be more accurate than “fail to please”.)
    On the other hand, in Germany I am never sure whether to say “Entschuldigung” or “Verzeihung”.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Excuse me, uh, …
    One of the features of politeness is that one takes pains not to appear to lord it over the person spoken to. So using “uh” and sounding like a harmless klutz may make the other person feel more comfortable about talking to a stranger. Using “would you happen to know” to a person who does not use such a pattern in their own speech might not have the desired effect, since that person might interpret this formulation as indicating that the questioner is showing off their high degree of education and thereby their social superiority.

  42. Sorry, I have no idea who Comic Book Guy is since I never saw an episode of The Simpsons until a few weeks ago. And I was in the first kindergarden in the British Empire in 1944. How’s that for perspective?
    I readily admit that I haven’t eliminated disfluencies from my speech. I was merely alluding to those that people grunt before beginning to speak. Yet, some can also be eliminated within an utterance simply by closing the mouth and reopening it speaking instead of grunting. Just as hand/eye co-ordination doesn’t work properly if the mind isn’t co-ordinated with them, so the mouth doesn’t work properly if the mind is not engaged in the speech act. I’ve known the latter very well, after the fact.
    With the mind engaged we can employ forsight, and eliminate, insert or avoid — in other words, edit. And of course this is easier in a written conversation than in speaking. I’m a terrible conversationalist — I say very little.

  43. Either the first “(” or the first “)” in my last post should be moved one word to the right.

  44. Maybe my last post would have been a little easier to parse if I had written:
    Either the first “)” or the first “(” in my last post should be moved one word to the right.

  45. uh,…
    This also give the other person notice that you’re not done speaking yet. Some people interpret any small pause in someone else’s speech as invitation to start speaking whatever they’ve been mentally rehearsing or to interrupt. The uh says it’s not time to interrupt yet and lets the speaker slow down the pace of conversation enough to let the ideas sink in. One cannot speak charismatically at a pace of a mile a minute necessary to prevent interruptions. Um allows charisma.

  46. Reading Nijma and Marie-Lucie’s comments, it really looks like dog-eat-dog in the world of human communication. Speak too politely and you’re thought of as hoity-toity; don’t say uh and the brash see it as a sign to leap in and monopolise the conversation… Is it worth opening your mouth at all? Am I going the way of the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, who ended up avoiding all unnecessary human contact whatsoever?

  47. My Turkish roomate whose English was fine threw “yani” in all the time, “şey” being a close second. In Arabic I always made it a point to use يعني instead of “uh…” and the same with 那个 in Mandarin. The problem now is I use 那个 way way too much, pushing it into the slot previously taken up by articles in English. I think because my brain is trying to stall as it tries to remember the article only to come up empty handed.
    The kicker is I almost never use fillers when speaking English.
    Not listed: Albanian, which in my experience is a prolonged /e/.

  48. Bathrobe, at least then you wouldn’t have to be afraid of jumping into speech before you know what to say.

  49. Dave: Absolutely not, no.
    Doch, doch. What ZD said. You’ve been living in the Alps so long you probably don’t notice your ears popping. Anyway, you may know how to yodel it while you’re eating non-fruit Strudel and playing the zither, but have you ever really listened to a Hamburger? Anyway, I was doing it in English, not tysk, as ZD said. And anyway, I’m Hungarian.

  50. michael farris says:

    Strange that the page linked to doesn’t have Polish. IME common fillers include:
    yy (lengthened y roughly i in bit)
    ten, tego (nominative or genitive of ‘that’),
    no (well),
    wiesz (you know),
    w zasadzie (as a rule),
    w sumie (altogether)
    I knew one person that used Holender (Dutchman) as a filler, a sound alike substitute for cholera (cholera but much stronger than might be expected).
    And while I remain unmoved in my firm conviction that fillers are not a sign of ‘disfluency’ and are in fact a normal and vital part of everyday language, I do realize they can be overused and strongly idiomatic usage of them can also annoy.
    I usually have a radio on at night while I sleep, but if I put it on the only station with classical music, that means when I wake up I’ll probably be listening to the Most Annoying Radio Announcer in Poland, who has a weird arhythmic delivery and completely overuses the filler yy averaging about three times every sentence even in what are clearly prepared texts and in weird places too…..

  51. This is very interesting. Especially for an interpreter I would think.

  52. Stephen Shelby,
    ‘Aba’ means ‘now’. It may well be that people use it as a filler, or perhaps it is the case that teachers are particularly likely to use it in a classroom context – as a way of keeping attention on them. My (English) teachers at school certainly used ‘Now’ and ‘Right’ and other very immediate words in that way.

  53. I knew a Mongolian guy who knew Mongolian, English, Japanese, and Chinese. When speaking Chinese he used to add a -tte or -de at the end of every sentence. To my ears it sounded like Japanese って, which means ‘(someone) says’, so it sounded like he was continually quoting someone. Not exactly a filler, but a very strange speech mannerism carried from one language to another. I think it was probably Mongolian дээ, but to this day I’m not sure.

  54. Also, not exactly fillers either, but in English I find myself using words like ‘so’, or ‘anyway’ as almost meaningless speech mannerisms.

  55. Funny how the mind works. I woke up during the night and realized I’d got my manana wrong. It’s bokra that is “manana without the sense of urgency”, not maalesh. (Trying Linux and the tildes won’t work).

  56. iakon: “first kindergarten in the British empire in 1944″? Does that mean the first ever founded, because I was at a kindergarten (in Oz) pre WWII.

  57. a very strange speech mannerism carried from one language to another. I think it was probably Mongolian дээ
    probably that was from Japanese tte, maybe showing that he does not take his speaking in Chinese very seriously, if it was used after every sentence or every time at the end of his talk
    but we have a filler word which is used also at the end of the sentence, ch yum shig (it’s like)
    the sentence without it would sound okay, just that added ch yum shig shows like sarcasm, humor, that what one said is not a serious statement.
    Mongolian confirmatory dee wouldn’t sound there naturally (like in tiim dee, or ugui dee), though the mannerism of course is not very natural too.

  58. That’s, ken?, an fair point, eh? Right enough.

  59. re teacher-based fillers, I’m reminded of a physics professor I once had who threw “mm’kay” at the end of every sentence, as though right out of South Park. I got the sense it was more to himself anyway, as though checking off some mental list of things to mention in lecture.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    I once heard Noam Chomsky lecture (many years ago), and the only thing I remember is that he used “and so on and so forth” all the time (maybe not at the end of every sentence, but of what could be considered oral paragraphs).

  61. Well, come to thing of it, maybe he was saying a very brief Тийм дээ, which could sound like って. Since he was happier speaking Chinese than Japanese, and spoke Chinese much more often, I can’t imagine why he would carry a Japanese mannerism into Chinese.

  62. he must be was an Inner Mongolian then, they are pretty sinicized like subconsciously even, to feel compelled to add confirmation to their Chinese speech
    tiim dee is not used in the end of the sentence at all times, in our dialect anyway
    it works like Japanese sou desu nee in response to what someone else said

  63. I have a friend who genuinely uses “whatchamacallit” as a filler, something like “anyway”. Only does it on the phone.

  64. Huh. OK, I guess I’m wrong about what I thought were fake fillers. Live and learn!

  65. Paul: It looks to me like I was the gullible victim of a sloppy amateur historian. Mrs McGill’s Library Garden (the word kindergarden couldn’t be used during that war of course) opened in 1944 in Victoria, B. C., and much later someone called it the first in the Empire, in a weekend magazine of a local newspaper.
    Are you aware whether or not the word kindergarden was used in your day?
    Bathrobe: Unlike Gulliver, who conversed with horses (and Isaac Azimov was wrong to think G. was crazy), I talk with dogs, cats, crows and ravens, mainly because I’m not acquainted with horses. This can be far more refreshing than speaking with humans — some of whose verbal mannerisms make me want to cat.

  66. iakon: afraid I can’t confirm if kindergarten was used at the time, butthe school certainly existed in the 1939-41 period when I was there. We used kindergarten freely soon after WWII. Maybe before the war it was called a nursery, and we back-referred to it as a kindergarten. It was called Aberfeldy, a Welsh name.

  67. iakon: and it still exists, but I can’t find a history of it to show if there were name changes.

  68. iakon: I talk with dogs, cats, crows and ravens,
    Iakon, do you get any response from the crows & ravens? I caw back at whenever I hear one, but I have never had a response so far. I love them, but our dogs don’t. Apparently crows make many different sounds, sixty or something like that (and have thirty-something words for birdseed).
    I can sometimes get foxes to respond; they think I’m another fox.

  69. David Marjanovi? says:

    Is it not? It is!

    In English it is. In German, you can apparently get away with pretending it’s always /ng/. It even behaves like a consonant cluster in that syllable boundaries run through it in southern German.

    in English, progressive voicing assimilation would render that /??z/

    That’s actually probably the case in much of Germany, too. Just the -[ms] at the end would stay.
    ([z] just simply doesn’t exist where I come from. It’s an utterly exotic sound that I had to learn just like the Chinese difference between se and si.)

    have you ever really listened to a Hamburger?

    No, but they don’t count anyway.

    I could try to say what my unthinking rules are, but I’d just be guessing.

    Please try. :-)

    in Germany I am never sure whether to say “Entschuldigung” or “Verzeihung”.

    Verzeihung is very old-fashioned, and there’s no other difference in meaning.

    dog-eat-dog

    …which comes from dogged dog, as we recently learned here… :-)

    ??

    “That/those” + the most common classifier.

    cholera but much stronger than might be expected

    As a swearword, that is. You can say it when a catastrophe happens.

  70. David Marjanovi&263; says:

    Oh, crap. The combination of Safari 3 with LH doesn’t work for special characters unless (testing here) if I look up their HTML entity numbers.
    The Chinese ones are pronounced nàge, with an inbuilt exclamation mark in the first syllable.

  71. David Marjanovi&263; says:

    Oh, crap. The combination of Safari 3 with LH doesn’t work for special characters unless (testing here) if I look up their HTML entity numbers.
    The Chinese ones are pronounced nàge, with an inbuilt exclamation mark in the first syllable.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    In France a kindergarten is called “jardin d’enfants”, a calque of the German word. This refers to a private school or daycare center for children about 3 to 6, too young to attend regular school. For the public version, “classes” for children aged 2 to 6 are called école maternelle (which is not compulsory). In this type of school the children are involved in activities inspired by the Montessori method (and the youngest ones take a nap in the afternoon). My mother taught in an école maternelle for a number of years and did all kinds of ingenious things with her 4-5 year olds, before she became a master teacher in a demonstration school used for teacher training, and switched to teaching 6-8 year olds and supervising student teachers.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    There is a great example of a filler in the Tintin albums: in the original (French), when one of the two inseparable detectives Dupont and Dupond says anything (except to each other), the other one immediately adds Je dirais même plus:, followed by the exact same words uttered by the first one. Since I don’t normally read Tintin in English, I don’t know or remember how this sentence was rendered in the English translation. The literal “I would say even more” does not seem very idiomatic. “And I might add” ?

  74. Can heartily recommend filler whatchamacallums in French – ‘enfin’, ‘comment’ and ‘bon, bah’ (of course) were most helpful in my early days in l’Hexagone. In fact, I’d go as far as to include them as standard in any language crash course.

  75. AJP: No, I don’t get a response from crow or raven either. I think it’s a matter of phonetics. They both have a very broad vocabulary which most humans can’t reproduce, I think because our vocal cords are in the way. If I walk close by one that’s perched I say ‘Hello, Crow!’ or ‘Hello, Raven!’ and they don’t move (even within arm’s reach) if I don’t look, but if I look they tense or even take off (depending on the distance between us). I do get the feeling that they learn their English names though, like ninetynineandfortyfouronehundreds percent of dogs understand ‘Doggie’.

  76. Thanks for Missingsch, Daff. The Hamburgisch article is also interesting, but I’m not sure they’ve got it quite right. They actually say “Hamboich” (ch as in Milch) for Hamburg. Train conductors say “Ailtoonah!” for Altona. Anyway, whatever.

  77. I once heard Noam Chomsky lecture (many years ago), and the only thing I remember is that he used “and so on and so forth” all the time (maybe not at the end of every sentence, but of what could be considered oral paragraphs).

    My lecturer in Classical Mechanics was very prone to adfixing “eller hvad ved jeg” to all examples he gave of some phenomenon/technique. Literally “or what do I know”.
    Drove me nuts! If he doesn’t know – as the lecturer – then who is likely to?

    Just heard the presenter/interviewer on Radio3 correct herself when she said “Do we know who was it written for? – Or rather I should say: ‘For whom was it written?’” (The context was how well Schubert’s Winterreise is suited for tenor.)

  78. iakon, I can’t do a crow, either. That’s very nice that you’re able to get up close; they won’t come near me because of the dogs, but I see them through the window. Magpies are even more timid. If you ever see a Swedish children’s tv series of 5-minute films about Bertil the crow, don’t miss it. That crow is so funny and so smart.
    Have you tried saying “cat” to a dog? (Sorry Language, it’s just a figure of speech.) Our dogs go absolutely crazy if we say cat to them; barking, and scrambling of feet, I’ve no idea why.

  79. I made a conscious decision early on, when learning German, that I was not going to try to learn German swear expressions. There were several reasons for this.
    First, things like Schweinehund were not naturally, subconsciously connected to my anger centers, And since Schweinehund sounds ridiculous to the English mind, it seemed unlikely that I could use my mind to acquire it as a swear word.
    Second, you have to be velly, velly careful when you use such expressions, since there’s a risk of not saying them in the right tone of voice, in an appropriate situation. Everybody knows that the English “you’re a real bastard, you know that?” can be said admiringly. Otherwise, you sound like the Indian grocery store guy in the Simpsons.
    If one ever gets around to using swear words in a foreign language, it will only be when you have mastered it. By then, you may not need the swear words that you had originally heard – because you have learned other ways to vent your anger.
    To this day, when I curse at all, it’s usually in English, although I’m speaking German.
    It should be even more difficult to learn to use foreign-language fillers in a natural way from the start. The most natural way to deal with them is to avoid them. I’ve added another screed on rhetorical flexibility to the comment thread to which Hat linked from this one.

  80. It should be even more difficult to learn to use foreign-language fillers in a natural way from the start.
    It isn’t especially necessary to use fillers perfectly from the start, anymore than it is to get all inflections or genders or whatever perfect from the start. But given that fillers have a very limited repertoire with very wide applicability, it is not a particularly insuperable obstacle given less practice than a lot of other elements also take anyway.
    Swearing is another matter, for sure, but surely also a learnable one if you are suitably delicate about registers and contexts. (I’m not any good at it, though, since I learned my Dutch mostly in entirely reputable companies.)

  81. In a couple of years your son will fill in any gaps in your vocabulary, Des.

  82. swearing … if you are suitably delicate about registers and contexts
    But des, that’s just the point: how can you possibly be sensitive to such things when you’re learning a language? Registers and contexts are not part of language-learning fundamentals. Even in English an English-speaker has to tread carefully. How much more complicated these things must be in Japanese, say (as I’ve heard tell).
    Implicit competence in the use of registers, and in the recognition of contexts, is acquired in social interaction, and through increasing familiarity with the society and culture involved, over long periods of time (Austria, say, as opposed to Germany – if we’re dealing with German).
    If you try to short-cut your way to these things, you run the risk of sounding like a pseud, or getting punched (the one leads naturally to the other in certain circumstances).

  83. It should be even more difficult to learn to use foreign-language fillers in a natural way from the start.
    I suspect this depends on the learner. I’ve retained the fillers from most of my foreign languages; “ano…” is one of the few bits that remains of my ancient substrate of Japanese.
    Just heard the presenter/interviewer on Radio3 correct herself when she said “Do we know who was it written for? – Or rather I should say: ‘For whom was it written?’”
    *bangs head on desk*

  84. Radio 3 ! Hmpfff.
    Of course, to be serious, I’ve heard presenters correct themselves on Radio 4 as well, but it’s usually done with a little note of worldly jocularity.

  85. *on* a little note
    <*permits himself a worldly simper*>

  86. Trond Engen says:

    I can sometimes get foxes to respond; they think I’m another fox.
    There you go. Fox genes allow communication.

  87. In Arabic, يعني yaʿni (‘meaning’) and وﷲ wallahi (‘by God’) are common fillers.
    I love yanni “maybe”; you will hear native speakers use this even when they speak English. Wallahee “by God”, not so much, taking the name of the Lord in vain, and all that, which means the same to the pious there as it does here, with the same possibility of offending some people or appearing to be disrespectful of others’ beliefs.
    Arabic unholy triad of IBM – in sha’allah, bokra, ma3alesh (God willing, “tomorrow”, never mind)
    These three are not really vocalized pauses; they mean something, and are used as social formulas:
    ~Insha’allah (In SHAH ah) is a polite refusal, it means the speaker is not refusing but is acknowledging the cosmic difficulty involved in the proposal under consideration. This may hint at reasons that cannot be enumerated, or at least that it would be politically unwise to mention, or to unforeseen but common difficulties, as with promptness of public transportation. A similar polite refusal is shoKRAHN “thank you”. If you are offered a refill of your tea glass and say shokran, it means “no thank you”, not “thank you in advance for giving it to me” as it would in English.
    ~Bokra (BOO kə rə) I have never heard used as mañana type excuse, perhaps this is Egyptian?
    ~Ma3alesh (MAAH lesh) means something like “never mind” or “no problem”. You hear it much in phone conversations, but for “no problem” I prefer “mish MOOSH-ka-la” مش مشكلة.
    I’m surprised no one mentioned Subhan’Allah سبحان الله in connection with Arabic. Some pious individuals tack this onto nearly every phrase; no doubt someone has told them if they say it a certain number of times it will help them reach paradise.
    Interestingly enough, subhan’Allah from sabh سبح , meaning void (?), is supposed to mean “empty God” (although I can’t seem to verify this). The usual meaning is praise God, much as you would hear pious persons in English say “praise the Lord.” A similar phrase is alhamdulillah, or “thank God”, sometimes shortened to “hamdullah” in conversation or when praying with prayer beads.

  88. @ read
    Well, I guess I have to give up, then. I’m not sure where he got the mannerism. He is pure (Outer) Mongolian, and claims to be a descendant of Genghis Khan to boot…. I’ll ask him about it if I see him again.

  89. David Marjanović says:

    Ah. Forgot the # in the HTML entity.

    First, things like Schweinehund were not naturally, subconsciously connected to my anger centers, And since Schweinehund sounds ridiculous to the English mind, it seemed unlikely that I could use my mind to acquire it as a swear word.

    …And… over there where you live… people… actually… say that? <blink>
    That said, I keep getting just such surprises lately. Just a year ago, on a museum visit tacked on to a scientific conference in Brussels, someone from Germany said “Du grüne Neune!” slowly, clearly, and very loudly in public. I was just flabbergasted. I had long known the expression in print (it means “WTF”), but it simply never occured to me that anyone might actually utter such a ludicrous, painfully embarrassing phrase (literally “you green nine”).
    I have never found it difficult to swear in English and seem to do it pretty naturally nowadays (see “oh crap” above, if I may say so myself), and even when speaking French I spontaneously exclaim merde when a catastrophe happens and ô merde when I’m told about one. I know about the 19th-century literary trope that extreme distress causes people to swear in their native languages, which is often the only way of figuring out what a character’s native language is; I suppose that applied in times of strong social taboos, but not to my generation or even the previous one. :-|
    Back to Grumbly: you don’t need the entire available vocabulary anyway – no single person uses all of it. Don’t like Schweinehund because it doesn’t correspond to anything in English? Just simply use Arschloch instead. <shrug>

  90. David: Arschloch makes sense, of course, so that’s one I do use. But dumme Sau, no. Fott- oder Sackgeseech, no.
    Du grüne Neune! is a strange one. Mostly very old ladies sometimes say that, but this year I heard a middle-aged guy say it – probably a member of some Christian sect. If an adolescent said it, he would be laughed out of down.
    Are you implying that Schweinehund is not familiar in Austria? It’s very common in Cologne and environs.

  91. zeehii sou shite kudasai nee, B :), i mean, to ask
    i bet i’m right about the guy’s mannerism then
    i use all the time maa maa, nee, sou, anou etc
    i say oh god when i sigh for example(in English! where i got that only, been trying to get rid of the habit) or chert when i swear
    and use ch yum shig all the time too, coz basically i don’t talk that seriously except when during work
    sometimes i regret that i missed the one-year German classes when i was a third yr student, attended it only 5 times that year, the teacher even wanted to give us the certificate that we attended the course
    could have been able to read some books in German by now, if was interested in learning it back then
    if i ever master English i’ll start learning German maybe(ch geh shig)

  92. My two favorite American fillers are “Oh, you know” and “There you are!”. They have this way of seeming to say something without necessarily actually saying anything specific.
    (“Fillers” in the broadest sense).

  93. JE: Are you thinking of There you are! as a greeting (as exemplified by Capt. Jack Aubrey)? I may be wrong but haven’t thought of it as being particularly Merkin. Isn’t it more British? I haven’t heard it in a long time.
    Or are you thinking of There you go! Here is an empty phrase indeed! The first time I heard it I thought I do? Go where?, and as the conversation rolled on without me I thought And what’s that got to do with the price of fish in Alaska on a foggy Sunday? because it didn’t relate to the conversation. It appeared as if s/he who said it felt as if was essential to blurt something, anything just to remain part of the conversation (as if that were a necessity).
    AJP Pate: I’m not sure I would cry ‘Cat!’ if dogs respond as you say. I know it would be funny to yumans, but if it stirs up the dogs I hope you take time to sooth them.
    No, yumans is not a typo. I use it as a variant (I think only after vowels). I’m not certain, but I think it has its origin in Zummerzet dialect.
    It occurs to me that no-one has discussed ah, er, um phonetically or phonemically. They appear to be allophones based an initial glottal stop. Of course all vowels begin with one, but it seems to me that the speaker opens the vocal tract to speak, but has nothing to say so simply grunts to indicate intention, and in that second the mind comes up with something, or not — in which case the grunt gets repeated.
    If this is supposed to be natural, how is it that groups of women can have conversations in which all are talking at once, but understand each other completely, and yet no-one grunts? Or so it seems in retrospect.

  94. I’m sorry, this is complete nonsense. You claim to only be against ‘grunts’ as though they perform no function and are thus, one supposes, evil (or at least offensive to some absurd half-held ideal of rhetoric), but you quickly expand your under-considered condemnations to any set phrase that doesn’t strike your fancy. Obviously you like to pretend that you are above phatic communication, otherwise you would, just like many people a good bit duller than you I’m sure have already done, quickly understand that a phrase like “there you go” performs a dozen interesting and useful conversational, social and pragmatic functions, and the fact that it does not literally refer to any concrete fact (we have a word for such constructions: that word is ‘idiom’ and I’m afraid English is lousy with them) never enters into it (I suppose at this point you look around you in mock confusion, wondering where this supposed “it” is and how something should enter it). I will indulge myself and further say that I am glad that the conversation rolled on without you, because either your repeated smug mocking of basic pragmatic norms is sincere and self-unaware, in which case you might be a borderline autistic and probably not a very good conversationalist; or it is a cheap grab for knowing superiority in the face of facts in which case you’re probably not a very good— well, you get the idea.
    This sort of talk makes my blood boil. Simultaneously you evince or feign ignorance of the greater part of linguistics in the service of some misconception that selectively applied and myopic hyper-”rationality” makes you more learned than the grunting masses, as well as attempting to throw around fancy linguistic terms like ‘allophone’ while clearly missing their significance. People making useless noises, indeed.

  95. It’s exactly the same bad-faith pseudo-scientific reading of the speech of normal people that you can find nearly anywhere these people vent their spleen. Find yourself a phrase that you dislike (odds are it’s because you associate it with a social class or group that you would like to be superior to), then apply this malformed rationalism to it, stubbornly refuse to acknowledge its function and meaning in normal discourse, and pretty soon it will be easy as pie to drum up some absurd but superficially rational reason that said construction is simply not a word, or simply not English, or apparently simply not language—but grunts, or babble. Or ‘cliche’, I suppose, if you have the privilege of writing in a literary journal.
    I say ‘refuse to acknowledge’ because the thing that really gets my hackle up about these people (I’m sorry, I should be more direct: you people, iakon) is that I am SURE that you are disfluent daily; I am SURE that if you were in conversation with someone and they used a phrase like “there you go” that you’d perfectly understand them until you REMEMBERED that that’s a lousy, empty, no-good phrase, and doesn’t logically mean anything, and further I am SURE that if they had said “there you have it” instead you would have heartily concurred, were it pragmatic for you to do so. For you and every other peeve-holder is a full-fledged speaker of the language of your choice and thus you are blessed with the faculties to understand and process all components of that language, as produced by other fellow full-fledged speakers. Like filler words, disfluencies, cliches, empty phrases, phatics, and quotes from show tunes, provided you’ve seen that show tune. It’s bad fucking faith and it makes me very angry.

  96. Oh, and the contention that women never produce filler words is patently false and a cursory glance at the relevant literature will indicate as much. So,: bosh.

  97. Z.D. *applause*

  98. I think very slowly on my feet. If I couldn’t use fillers I doubt I could speak at all. No great loss to the world if I didn’t, I admit, but a loss to me.

  99. There you go. And wherever you go, there you are.

  100. I found it hard – it’s hard to find
    oh well
    whatever
    never mind

  101. the contention that women never produce filler words is patently false
    You’re right! “It’s bad fucking faith” contains a filler!
    Sloterdijk has a sharp definition of (modern) cynicism: enlightened bad faith (aufgeklärtes falsches Bewußtsein). For “bad faith” read dishonesty, or disingenuousness, or hypocrisy. It’s a major theme of his Critique of Cynical Reason.

  102. And let me add my belated applause to Z.D.’s anti-peeve-holder comments!

  103. Not only do I say “Du grüne Neune”, I also say “Du liebes bisschen”. If you find that painfully embarrassing, so be it, but I don’t see why the refusal to swear in public should imply that one is a member of a Christian sect.

  104. Oh crap, I thought Z.D. Smith was a she. Whatever. He’s still right.

  105. bruessel: I certainly don’t find “Du grüne Neune” painfully embarassing. That was David’s response. Apart from simply noting that the expression is unusual nowadays, I actually find it cute, particularly coming from a younger person.
    What I said about a Christian sect was meant to suggest that, in a speaker of the age of the man I heard, there must be a particular social background to his use of the expression – a concretely motivated desire to avoid the usual vulgar exclamations such as Scheiße.
    “Run out of town” was a reflection on what the general reaction of adolescents would be to the expression. I think it’s safe to say that adolescents are much less tolerant than older people as regards deviation from group-speak norms.

  106. To swim against the current, most people prefer to have a support team following them on the river bank, shouting encouragement. I prefer it too, but don’t often get it.

  107. Nijma:
    If you are offered a refill of your tea glass and say shokran, it means “no thank you”, not “thank you in advance for giving it to me” as it would in English.
    ~Bokra (BOO kə rə) I have never heard used as mañana type excuse, perhaps this is Egyptian?

    I’m not sure if I understand the first part of the above correctly, but in English you can say “thank you” with a shake of the head to mean “no thank you.”
    The bokra as mañana joke I heard in Jordan, but of course it might have been an import.

  108. I’m not sure I would cry ‘Cat!’ if dogs respond as you say. I know it would be funny to yumans, but if it stirs up the dogs I hope you take time to sooth them.
    No, that’s quite right, my daughter told me that. We don’t do it, it’s only happened a couple of times. I wouldn’t dream of doing it near a cat, either. I just don’t understand why they’re interested in the word.

  109. I just don’t understand why they’re interested in the word.
    Have you tried crying some one-syllable word other than “cat”, in the same tone of voice? Something like “mat”, or “sat”, or a word that sounds completely different, like “paranthesis”? Perhaps they’re responding more to your delivery than to what you’re saying.

  110. But des, that’s just the point: how can you possibly be sensitive to such things when you’re learning a language? Registers and contexts are not part of language-learning fundamentals.
    Even as a beginner at Dutch I could tell that a wedding was a different kind of social occasion from a trip to the pub.
    But I also wasn’t suggesting that swearing was necessarily for beginners, just that it (like anything else that is an art) can be learned.
    Personally, I would like to see a language course that started almost exclusively with placeholders, obscenities, deixis and fillers and gradually worked its way up to articulacy:
    Lesson 1:
    “Uh, could you, like, pass me that thingummy, you know?”
    “No, not that one; that one. The one next to the wossname.”
    “Ah forget it, I can’t get the fucking thing to do anything worth a damn anyway. Fuck it!”

  111. a language course that started almost exclusively with placeholders, obscenities, deixis and fillers and gradually worked its way up to articulacy
    Great idea! My own views on language-learning are essentially that. Ontology recapitulating infantology – more or less. And pub lessons should be included of course (because of the mewling and puking at which infants excel). Those lessons sure helped me, back in the 70s.

  112. I’ve seen them drool at “parentheses”, but not, (for example) at “litotes” or “square brackets”. They’re quite keen on actual litotes; anything is better than dry dogfood.

  113. The Von Bladet School of Linguistics sounds rather like the notorious scene in “The Wire” in which two detectives investigate a murder scene and discuss their surprising and important discoveries using only one word. (And variations on it)

  114. I use “er-ah” as a filler quite a bit when I speak–it’s a reference to how the Kennedys used to use it as a filler in their New England-twang speeches, “Teddy and, er-ah, I, while, er-ah, sailing off Hyannis, er-ah….” It’s like giving northeast voice to your taking a breath.
    When I lived among the Hippies back in the Good Ole Wavy Gravy Days, the most abused filler of all time was “you know”–”Man, ah, you know, dude, ah, you know, uh, what I mean, you know, right, man?”
    Ur fiend,
    thegrowlingwolf

  115. a language course that started almost exclusively with placeholders, obscenities, deixis and fillers and gradually worked its way up to articulacy
    This would work especially well for Russian; I have read accounts by people who said that they only started being treated as regular Russian speakers instead of cute foreigners when they could produce such sentences. I had thought the idea that you could just stick blyad’ (literally ‘whore,’ but the functional equivalent of ‘fuck’) in anywhere was an exaggeration until I met a guy in NYC who literally used it at least once per sentence. And back when I had a Russian girlfriend who was quite critical of my spoken Russian, I’ll never forget the occasion when I got mad at her and hollered “Dura! (‘fool,’ female): she looked satisfied and said “Now you sound like a Russian.”

  116. Is ‘Du Gruene Neune’ some kind of minced oath?

  117. I initially wondered about that too. But the (German) WiPe entry on German fixed expressions has a provisionally plausible explanation of a different kind:

    Vermutlich zurückzuführen auf die Pik-9 im Kartenspiel, die beim Kartenlegen Unheil verhieß

    Presumably derived from the 9 of spades in a deck of cards. In card-reading, this card represented (impending) calamity

    Where the green comes from it doesn’t say, nor what kind of deckromancy is involved. The full expression is Ach du grüne neun(e). The final “e” is just for euphony.
    By the way, “minced oath” is a great expression. Did you make it up? It even sounds nicely musliferous: “minced oats”, “minted oats”.

  118. Dura!
    Another semi-memory, Hat: the stress is on the “a”. Oui ou merde ?

  119. In a traditional German deck of cards, the spades are green.

  120. Thanx, lukas. Unfortunately I could never learn any German card games, such as Schafkopf. Compared with American decks, there are usually cards missing (32 instead of 52, for instance). And the basic bidding rules are so strange (I’m thinking of Skat) that I can’t get my head around them.

  121. The Von Bladet School of Linguistics sounds rather like the notorious scene in “The Wire” in which two detectives investigate a murder scene and discuss their surprising and important discoveries using only one word.
    Ja.
    - Oh, yah, that can happen.
    - Yah.
    - Hey, they were goin’ to the Twin Cities.
    - Oh, yah?
    Yah. Yah. Is that useful to ya?
    Oh, you betcha, yah.
    (both) Yah.

  122. Z. D., the grunts I refered to are the same noises that Grumbly was speaking against.
    As I child I and others were trained to eliminate grunts and a gaping mouth. My teachers and professors also went through the same training. It wasn’t until the eighties that I began to hear them more and more from other people, all of them younger.
    They never acquired meaning for me. Idiom and phatic communication are entirely different. My reaction to ‘There you go!’ that I described occured only the first time. I don’t see why you assume I still react that way. The more I hear it, the more it acquires meaning(s).
    The linguistics I learned is old and rusty, I readily admit. I have enjoyed this blog because it refreshes my memory and introduces me to things new to me, and because it’s civilized.
    But one thing I have trouble understanding is the viciousness of the anti-peeve peeve. It reveals a lack of desire to understand which seems to be part of the prejudice of ageism. Note that I said ‘seems’ and note also that I am well aware that the prejudice can operate in both directions.
    Would somebody who respects mutual respect please explain the above-mentioned viciousness to me?

  123. Would somebody who respects mutual respect please explain the above-mentioned viciousness to me?
    It don’t got no explanation, I ‘spec. Bad mood, bad manners. Hits me too once a week, reg’lar.
    All that blood boilin’, it’s enough to put a gal off her feed.

  124. Thing is, only Mr. Hat is the boss round here. Anybody else fly off the handle, that’s his problem.
    From my ex perience with Mr. Grumbly, I’d say just ignore the guy. Probly lot of people thinkin’ just like you. Mr. G. has toned it down some, maybe the other guy will too.

  125. Most here are past 50 and maybe past 60. I’m not sure ageism is a factor.
    Anti-prescriptivism, anti-Chomskyism, and in certain linguistic contexts, anti-nationalism are pretty ingrained around here.

  126. Vieux croûtons tous, in other words (with a tip of the hat to marie-lucie for that expression!)

  127. There may not be any vieilles croûtonnes, though. But even if there were, I wouldn’t want to mention it.

  128. Another semi-memory, Hat: the stress is on the “a”. Oui ou merde ?
    Merde, I’m afraid. You may be thinking of the masculine form, durak, where the stress is indeed on the final syllable.

  129. Thanks. durak it was.

  130. Yes, well, the problem with bad manners is that when you’re insulting people who _aren’t_ present, it’s just called being witty. Ageism nothing. Your tone is what I objected to, iakon, as far from simply asserting that you had eliminated all disfluencies from your speech and were glad for it (A claim I would be interested in having demonstrated but not offended at), you have repeatedly picked upon various normal, productive, very widespread usages or features of speech which for some reason displease you, and then found ways to talk about the people who use them as though they were dimwits, or as though they didn’t fully understand the whole business of speaking. If you can’t see why I would get inflamed by your characterization of normal people who happen not to speak like you do as unthinking, grunting automotons (or twits, or children), then I fear we will ever fail to understand each other.
    The fact is that many people here with better manners than I have, at some length, attempted to further the cause of mutual respect (that is, respect for us here as well as the great unwashed gibbering masses out there, who say things like ‘er’ and ‘there you go’) by pointing out to you (and Stu) the many ways in which cause prejudice against the many things you have expressed prejudice against is not based in firm scientific fact, is inconsistent and objective, and tends to rather run against many of the principles that linguists and anthropologists agree on. They have done so without accusing you of being smug, or sounding like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, or accusing you of taking other people’s utterances in bad faith in order that you can make fun of them. You sort of ignored them, and continued to spout airy observations about which groups tend to grunt like chimpanzees the most and which the least, so I had to step in and be very rude.

  131. On a more intellectually fertile note, between Schafkopf and Durak we are coming dangerously close to linguistically circumscribing all of my favorite card games. Let us do Clobyosh next. It’s got a bunch of very interesting words in it.

  132. marie-lucie says:

    There is at least one vieille croûtonne here, Grumbly, so watch your tongue.
    I really don’t see why there you are or there you go are considered “fillers” (words one uses while thinking of the next word), or why some people here object to them so strenuously. They belong to a colloquial register, and cannot be understood literally, but that is not a reason to consider them objectionable.

  133. Has anyone read the book by Alex Waugh about the Wittgenstein family? It was mentioned (‘reviewed’ would be pushing it) in the New Yorker a few months ago. I’m just wondering if it’s worth getting.

  134. Sorry, I forgot to say: that was “off topic”.
    Thank you.

  135. There you are and there you go are responses you can use when you want to vaguely agree with someone while making it vaguely seem that they had agreed with what you said, even though they probably didn’t.
    Maybe only my brother uses it.

  136. There sure is a sufficiency of Wittgenstein gossip. The Hitler’s-classmate book, the Popper-poker book, the gay-rough-trade book, and now the Waugh book. I say, read all of em. Sure, some of them are crap, but it will at least keep you away from the goats.

  137. Or Wittgenstein’s Neffe. Eine Erzählung (Wittgenstein’s Nephew. A story), by Thomas Bernhard.

  138. If anybody remembers the TV series McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver as a policeman from Taos, New Mexico on semi-permanent “special assignment” with the New York City Police Department, his catch-phrase was “There ya go”.

  139. Within the last few months I either read a review or, as we’re apparently now calling it, encountered a mention of a book about W’s family that said that the one-handed pianiste brother wasn’t a particularly good (one-handed) pianiste by today’s exacting (one-handed) standards, if that helps.
    (I’m medium sure it wasn’t in the New Yorker since it is exceptionally rare that I read anything at all in the New Yorker, especially if you’re prone to stickling about getting to the end before saying you’ve read things.)

  140. Well you know, there are sharply different theories about how one-handed pianos should be played, and a lot of animosities between the partisans of the two schools.

  141. marie-lucie says:

    JE: There you are and there you go are responses you can use when you want to vaguely agree with someone while making it vaguely seem that they had agreed with what you said, even though they probably didn’t.
    Well, maybe they are used differently in Canada, because your definitions do not correspond to my own observations and occasional use.
    Suppose you and I are having a heated discussion about some topic, and you say something in a way that shows that you actually agree with me: I might exclaim “There you are!” and add a comment to emphasize the area of agreement, not mumble the phrase as it to end a conversation that has lasted too long without results.

  142. I now realize that my brother’s usage in non-standard. So is mine, by now.

  143. marie-lucie says:

    JE, maybe you share a “famililect” with your brother, but there may be regional differences in the uses of the phrase.

  144. David Marjanović says:

    If an adolescent said it, he would be laughed out of down.

    The guy was in his twenties (and of course still is).

    But dumme Sau, no.

    Does that even count as swearing? ;-)

    Fott- oder Sackgeseech, no.

    Well, fuckface is fairly common in the blogosphere (though much less so than, say, demented fuckwit)…

    Are you implying that Schweinehund is not familiar in Austria?

    Exactly. I know it only in print.

    Personally, I would like to see a language course that started almost exclusively with placeholders, obscenities, deixis and fillers and gradually worked its way up to articulacy:

    :-o
    That sounds like a great idea!

    The final “e” is just for euphony.

    There’s a much more complicated story behind this that I have, unfortunately, not understood myself.

    Merde, I’m afraid.

    WTF. I’m forgetting Russian stress like Chinese fucking tones. :-o [ʔ͡sː]… [ʔt͡sː]… [ʔ͡fː]… I’m speechless and don’t know whether to laugh or… well, I should go to bed, but that’s beside the point. <headshake>

  145. JE: There you are and there you go…Maybe only my brother uses it.
    Not at all, it’s common in Wobegon. “There you are” is sort of like QED, “you have just given a perfect example that proves the point” or “I told you so.” “There you go” is more like “you have discovered the perfect solution to the problem” or “good idea.”
    growlingwolf, man:among the Hippies back in the Good Ole Wavy Gravy Days, the most abused filler of all time was “you know”–”Man, ah, you know, dude, ah, you know, uh, what I mean, you know, right, man?”
    Yeah, outta sight, man, right on, in those days it was really far out, but I don’t remember “dude” until about 2001 or so, man. “You know” isn’t just for young people as the wiki claims; it was a favorite of my grandmother. These days on Chicago’s south side it’s “ya know what I mean” every other sentence. That awful phrase is the reason they invented mp3 players with ear buds for people who have to take the train, ya know what I mean?
    AJP:I wouldn’t dream of doing it near a cat, either.
    My late husband liked to talk to my dog about cats. “Where’s the cat?” he would say. The dog knew exactly what a cat was and would get excited. Then my darling husband would say “get the cat”, which really got my dog going. Of course dogs know what cats are. The kittens knew too, and would also get excited, and not in a good way either. You never saw so many little pointed ears sticking straight up.

  146. Paul: but in English you can say “thank you” with a shake of the head to mean “no thank you.”
    Maybe in Oz, but not here. You have to say “no, thank you”. Besides, using gestures isn’t the same.
    Example:

    Person with teapot: “more tea?” (or just holds up teapot with inquiring expression)
    You: “Thank you.”

    At this point an American would refill the tea glass, a bedouin housewife would go on to the next person without refilling the tea.
    The head shake (back and forth) means nothing to Arabs as far as I can tell, but the up and down motion means no, or rather an abrupt upward motion, especially if accompanied by a tongue click.

  147. Minced oath is a fine expression.

  148. michael farris says:

    Nij, the same thing in Poland. A plain thank you to an offer, even with a nod means ‘no thanks’ (the head nod is acknowledging the courtesy of being offered).
    I remember my early days here.
    Pole: Zrobię kawę, chcesz? -I’m making coffe, want some?
    Me: Dziękuję. (nodding) -Thank you
    Polish person goes on to make one cup of coffee and drink it front of me as wonder what just happened.
    An American equivalent might be ‘that’s okay’ to politely turn down an offer.
    Pat: I’m making coffee, want some?
    Terry : That’s okay. (meaning, no, thank you).

  149. Thank you for the Wittgenstein responses. I’ve decided against it, Des has given me what I wanted to know: the brother was a rotten one-armed piano player. The New Yorker implied he was pretty darn good, just disagreeable; but I prefer bad. To lurch back on topic (of another post) Ludwig’s sister’s brothers-in-law committed suicide in even greater numbers than her own brothers.
    I don’t actually buy the New Yorker, it is sent to me by my mother. I often find it VERY irritating. I would give it to the goats, but I don’t think they’d like it (too many glossy pages).

  150. Got it: Het Nieuw-Amsterdamse Grijsblad

    The author does not care to raise Paul Wittgenstein’s posthumous reputation as a pianist, observing that his performances now strike the ear as “harsh and ham-fisted” (a judgment born out by a recording I found on the Internet of Paul Wittgenstein playing the Ravel concerto in 1937 with Bruno Walter and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra).

  151. A plain thank you to an offer, even with a nod means ‘no thanks’
    Same in German, with danke!. It took me years to become accustomed to that. You also hear nein, danke! (neinDANKe, not NEIN-DANKe). To accept the offer, you say ja, bitte!.
    The implicit “no” works only if you say danke! in a neutral tone of voice, however. In other words, there is a way to get around this, but I don’t hear it very often. Namely, you could say danke! Ja gerne!, with a fast slide-up-down intonation on the danke – something like what can happen in English on the “wow” in “wow, great!” – and thus get your cuppa after all. To counteract the implicit “no” of danke!, you have to lay it on thick with special intonation, and and follow up immediately with ja sehr gerne! or other explicit token of gushing acceptance.

  152. Thank you so much, Des. The Grisblad’s review was a proper one, unlike the Nieuw Porker’s. “Ham-fisted” is a bit hard; I like it.

  153. Incidentally, here is a much nicer Ravel piano concerto; it’s played without wrong notes and thumping the keyboard too.

  154. Do you mean stumping the keyboard? That’s no harsher than “ham-fisted”, said of a one-armed pianist.

  155. David Marjanović says:

    Shorter Grumbly: in German, you just don’t say “thanks” in advance, before you’ve got anything – except for literally writing “many thanks in advance” in a letter or e-mail. The obvious thing to say is “yes, please”.

  156. in German, you just don’t say “thanks” in advance, before you’ve got anything
    True – on the assumption you mean here “you just don’t *really* thank someone in advance, before you’ve got anything”. After all, one does say danke!. Your point is, this is not-really-thanks (kein Danke im eigentlichen Sinne). You haven’t received anything yet, so you can’t show yourself grateful for having received it. That should be true more or less independently of the language involved, because in a sense it’s a logical point about what it means to show yourself grateful.
    However, the following is also true of the person offering you something. When you say danke! meaning “no thanks”, he can take the (kind-of) thanks without having to do anything in return, such as actually giving you what he had offered.
    So David’s clarification and mine add up to this: Germans on the whole place great importance on keeping the social give-and-take books exactly balanced. When someone does something that unbalances the books, a counter-entry is immediately necessary.
    Example: you’ve gone into a Kneipe where you don’t know people that well. Say you get into a conversation with a few people, and at some point you pay for a round of beer. If you then try to leave before someone else has paid for a round, there will be protests. You are not permitted to leave them owing you a favor. You can leave only after one or two other people have paid for rounds.
    This is really true, in Cologne / Bonn at least. I noticed it first as far back as the 70s. I wonder whether it is true in some sense of the other societies mentioned, where thanks means no thanks. It means getting something for nothing (the pseudo-thanks), and not really-thanking anyone before getting something. The books remained balanced, because what is said is a zero booking entry.

  157. in German, you just don’t say “thanks” in advance, before you’ve got anything cont’d
    And in any case, in English, “thanks” always means at the very least “thanks for the offer”. Nobody understands it to mean “thanks for what you haven’t yet given me”.

  158. Peer Jørgensen says:

    A.J.P. Kronisk, dingsboms is used in Norwegian as well. It’s a thingamy.
    For Norwegian fillers, liksom (“kinda”), altså (“so”), and på en måte (“in a way” or “sort of”) come to my mind. Sort of seems to me our fillers kind of double as, like, weasel phrases, in a way. Does that say something about Norwegians, or am I just putting my increasing disconnection from everyday Norwegian speech on public display again, sort of?

  159. Terry Collmann says:

    I’m surprised no one has pointed out yet that to “err” is human, to forgive divine.
    John Emerson, I’d certainly use “well, there you go” to mean “you have just said something very stupid but I cannot be arsed to get into an argument with you about it.” (South of England, over 50)

  160. David Marjanović says:

    When you say danke! meaning “no thanks”

    Generally avoided in favor of nein danke. (Such a fixed phrase that it has lost its comma.)

    I’d certainly use “well, there you go” to mean “you have just said something very stupid but I cannot be arsed to get into an argument with you about it.”

    Wasn’t there a famous case of “there we go again” in a TV debate between US presidential candidates not too long ago?

  161. Jørgensen,
    I hadn’t noticed dingsboms, I’ll have to watch out for it (them), ikke sant?
    The one you missed is ikke sant, ikke sant? I’ve heard one side of telephone conversations where those are the only two words, repeated over & over, but I don’t know whether that’s regarded as “filler”, ikke sant? It means “Isn’t that so?” or “Isn’t it.” or “Isn’t it?” or “Aren’t they?” or “Shouldn’t she/they?”.
    I’ve also heard one-word phone calls using “Akkurat … akkurat … akkurat …” and “… Nettopp! … Nettopp! … Nettopp!”, but that’s the same as in English.

  162. There’s a world of difference between “well, there you go” and Reagan’s “Here we go again!”. One means “I can’t be arsed” and the other is saying “Let’s distract everybody from what” — was it Dukakis? — “is saying!” .

  163. Maybe Mondale, I get all those Demokrats mixed up.

  164. Trond Engen says:

    dingsboms
    It’s a German loan. Der Ding is an sich enough to tell.
    ikke sant
    In Western Norway sant. lit. “true”.
    A feature of modern, especially young female, Norwegian is the use of bare “only” as a discourse particle closely resembling the like of young Americans. From some pink blog (that I can’t decide if is a parody without reading more than I think I want):

    OG JEG BARE TIL HAN HALLO JEG HAR BEVIS PÅ AT DU ER UTRO!!!! og han bare babe jeg er ikke utro jeg elsker deg ikke sant? og jeg bare ikke søren om jeg lissom skal være sammen med deg lissom du er utro ikke sant? så lissom by by ikke sant?

  165. Trond Engen says:

    I missed an intermediary step. What I meant to say, and what the example shows, is that we have a filler lissom (= liksom “like if”) parallel to English like, while bare “only” corresponds to like as a spoken colon.
    And das Ding, obviously.

  166. What Reagan famously said, originally to Jimmy Carter, was There you go again!, meaning something like “Everybody knows how wrong you are about that.”
    Well, there you go can have a completely different, much more positive meaning: “What you have said, or told me, confirms my view of the matter, and of course you see it the same way.”

  167. There you go again
    Except that is wasn’t Mondale, it was Carter; and it wasn’t “There you are!” or “Here we go again!”, it was “There you go again“; and it didn’t mean “what you said”, it meant “pay no attention to my record on Medicare”.

  168. And four years later he used the same line against Mondale.

  169. Trond, ikke sant, that’s very funny. You lissom made it up, ikke sant? The dingsboms ding refers to a discussion we had about the German word, above.
    Thank you Dumpster & Nij. Using the Chompsky principle you ought to be “Dumster”, but I won’t mention that.

  170. marie-lucie says:

    I think that ikke sant must be the same thing as n’est-ce pas? in French. The latter is not used so much in colloquial speech, being replaced by pas vrai? (literally “not true?”) or plain non?.

  171. Trond Engen says:

    You lissom made it up, ikke sant?
    No joke, or not from me, anyway. I read a little more of the blog and now I’m confident that it’s a parody, even if the comments I’ve seen seem honest enough. But it’s hard to tell without the aid of a native speaker of girl talk.
    dingsboms
    I know that it referred to the German word, but the messages didn’t make it clear that it’s a loan rather than a cognate or a calque. However, the shorter dings, be it a shortened form or a parallel loan, is more common and boms seems to be understood as a nonce or baby-talk extension.

  172. Trond Engen says:

    Marie Lucie: It’s the same thing. I didn’t even know that pas vrai was French. I’ve noticed my sister saying it a couple of times, but I took it to be substratum.
    Oh, yeah, a close translation of the text. In English. I can’t come close to matching the register in French:

    AND I LIKE TO HIM HELLO I HAVE PROOF THAT YOU CHEAT!!!! and he like babe I don’t cheat I love you right? and I like no way I like will be with you like you cheat right? so like bye bye right?

  173. Siganus Sutor says:

    Last year there was a short article in the Daily Telegraph about fillers. It is still available on line:
    The thing is, one in 10 words are, um, ‘fillers’
    Researchers have found that the British are the world’s worst when it comes to umming and erring.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1584813/The-thing-is-one-in-10-words-are-um-fillers.html

  174. Apparently the British have 132 words for err…

  175. Torygraph: “It seems to me that the Anglo Saxon countries – Britain and America – are the worst for using these filler words to pad out our conversations.
    “I think it is because unlike other country’s like France we do not protect our language. There is little teaching of best practice.

    Aaah ha ha! Silly old Torygraf! Go to jail!

  176. marie-lucie says:

    Trond Engen: I didn’t even know that pas vrai was French. I’ve noticed my sister saying it a couple of times, but I took it to be substratum.
    What language were you and your sister speaking? And are you sure you mean substratum? (also substrate, this word refers to a language formerly spoken by a given population, which has left recognizable traces in the language currently spoken). Perhaps you meant substandard, or in current usage non-standard?

  177. AJP’s Telegraph link from April 2008:
    “…unlike other country’s like France we do not protect our language…”
    “…and the footballers’ favourite “at the end of the day” on avergage every nine seconds…”
    “…when it comes to umming and erring…”
    To err is human, to proofread divine.

  178. David Marjanović says:

    so like bye bye right?

    :-D

    unlike other country’s [sic] like France

    Bon, ben… pas vrai, quoi.

  179. Oh, that was Sig’s link, wasn’t it.
    But Sig, why don’t you put http://mauricianismes.wordpress.com/ in your URL so any French speakers (or Martianphiles) can find your blog?

  180. Trond Engen says:

    What language were you and your sister speaking?
    My sister is married to a Frenchman. Once every now and then, when I’m visiting her or she’s visiting me, I hear her speak French to her husband and children.
    And are you sure you mean substratum? (also substrate, this word refers to a language formerly spoken by a given population, which has left recognizable traces in the language currently spoken). Perhaps you meant substandard, or in current usage non-standard?
    No, I meant substratum. Sort of. With a very small propulation. I thought I heard her native language in her French.

  181. Sig’s link, and I screwed up the HTML in my excitement at finding a mistake in the Deilig Tele- Graf.

  182. marie-lucie says:

    Trond Engen: I thought I heard her native language in her French.
    Then I am not sure I understand what you mean: did you think that pas vrai was in some other language than French? presumably you and your sister share the same native language, so do you use pas vrai in that language? I am confused.

  183. michael farris says:

    I think trond is saying that when he heard his sister say ‘pas vrai’ in French, he assumed it was a calque of ‘ikke sant’ from her native Norwegian and not an already existing expression in French.
    In other words, he thought (incorrectly in this case) that her Norwegian substrate was affecting her superstrate French.
    At least that’s my interpretation.

  184. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: I was convoluted and obfuse. Michael is right.
    All: Is the typology of my example above widespread in Western youth (girl) talk, a Common Average Juvenile or something?

  185. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, MF! I missed that point.
    Trond, “calque” was the word. “Substrate” and “superstrate” (or the Latin equivalents) refer to languages in general, not to a particular individual’s use of one or more languages.

  186. Trond Engen says:

    Standard Average Juvenile, I mean.
    marie-lucie: Thanks, but I do know the word ‘calque’, I even used it somewhere above, and I knew that ‘-strate’ apply to whole languages rather than idolects. It was another failed smartass attempt on ironic exaggeration.

  187. michael farris says:

    “”Substrate” and “superstrate” (or the Latin equivalents) refer to languages in general, not to a particular individual’s use of one or more languages.”
    I would say that substrate and superstrate usually refer to populations that have gone (or are undergoing) language shift rather than individuals (or to creole situations), but trond’s use of the term didn’t bother me. I’ve heard linguists use the terms (maybe jocularly) in reference to individuals as well.

  188. marie-lucie says:

    MF, I am not familiar with those terms used for individuals, so that use might indeed be jocular, as Trond says his was. I wouldn’t say that the terms refer to populations though, only to their languages (of course, languages would not exist without populations to speak them, but I don’t think that the -strate words refer to those human groups).

  189. ToussianMuso says:

    Many francophone West Africans seem to use the French word “chose” as a filler, not in the sense of “truc” (the French equivalent of “thingamajig”), but to fill in any sort of blank when searching for specifics; for example, somebody said to me, “J’ai pris la voie de … chose … de Toussiamasso.”
    Or perhaps “chose” in such a context could be better translated as “whatever”, in which case I may be off on an irrelevant tangent.

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