I consider myself to be a slightly above-average articulate guy, able to carry on a coherent conversation without too many distracting foibles.
You need to, you know, block those bad conversational habits.
So it came as somewhat of a shock to me the other day when my wife stopped me right in the middle of a good story.
She said, “Do you know how many times you say ‘you know’?”
“Huh?” I said, my mouth still open from whatever I’d been telling her, now forgotten.
“You say ‘you know’ just about every other sentence sometimes--a lot,” she said. “So do I, which is why I’m telling you, because it’s a bad habit.”
“I do not,” I protested. “I only say it once in a while and only when it’s, you know, appropriate.”
“See, you did it again,” she said, pointing and wagging her finger at me like a third-grade schoolteacher at an errant student.
“Did not,” I said.
“Did too,” she said.
“Did ... I did, didn’t I,” I said incredulously. I hadn’t even noticed that I did it.
She then explained that she became obsessed with this during a car ride with a group of friends, one of whom was saying “you know” at an alarming rate. My wife lost count at around 50 times during a 40-minute drive.
So we began to correct each other every time we used that now-condemned phrase, what I refer to as the “YK virus.” It was amazing--disturbing really--how often we did it.
Mostly it was when we were trying to explain something that required a bit of thought to fully develop the concept. Like, you know, hard things … see how easily it slips in there? But it’s not really needed.
We began to realize we were using that short phrase as a filler, something to say when we didn’t know what to say, or when our mouth was getting ahead of our brain (that happens all too often).
So as we began to realize we were doing it, I started to self-correct, which in itself is enough to drive one’s self crazy.
I would be racing along in a sentence and suddenly catch myself saying “you know,” then immediately stop, wince, shake my head, and say out loud, “No, you don’t know,” take a breath, and repeat the sentence without the bad YK words.
After a day or two of this, my wife finally said, “OK, stop saying ‘no, you don’t know’ to yourself; it’s driving me nuts.”
After two or three weeks of self-correction, I have begun to master the YK demon. It hasn’t been easy, after a lifelong YK addiction, but now I can generally catch myself as I’m about to say it and hold my tongue--well, not literally, but I suppose that would be another more aggressive--but odd--way to cure yourself.
One thing I’ve noticed is that this has made me slow down my thought process to ensure that it is in sync with my verbalization process.
It has personified the adage that we have two eyes, two ears, and only one mouth, because we should watch and listen twice as much as we talk.
I now understand the phrase “watch your words,” because I have literally begun to alert, like an Irish setter pointing out quail, when I am about to go astray in my mind-mouth synchronization. I can visualize myself on point, making me freeze in my articulating tracks until the right words are flushed from the bushes.
It has made me slow down--physically, psychologically, and verbally. I have discovered that it’s OK to just pause for a moment, think about my next words, form the thought, then engage my mouth. Another adage comes to mind: Look before you leap.
I’ve even found that these natural, dramatic pauses as you scan your databases for the right term can be used for effect; the pensive furrowing of the brow, the thoughtful stroking of the chin, the glance out in space can all convey an air of deliberation.
This has also led me to begin purging my speech of other distracting fillers, such as “um” or “ah” or “mmm” and others I have yet to discover.
Now that I’m aware, it seems my brain has automatically inserted a digital editing machine in my synaptic system that pre-screens my thoughts before they become words--a handy device to have around.
The problem I now face is that I have begun to notice these annoying habits in other people, and when I do, it makes me want to stop them in mid-sentence to point out the error of their ways--very rude.
I have to remind myself that they are sick with the YK virus like I used to be, and I need to be patient with them, gently tell them they are driving me to distraction and sagely instruct them how to self-cure themselves.
I’ll let you know (I meant to say that) how it turns out.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.