Verbal Fat

Umm.

Uhh.

Ehhh.

Well…

I like to talk a lot. If you know me, you probably know that I will just keep talking about stuff if I am excited about something.

I have noticed that the more I talk, and the more excited I am when I talk, this one thing starts to happen. All those noises I spelled out above start creeping in. I think that it has to do with my brain running much faster than my mouth, and the noises are my mouth trying to get my brain to slow down, perhaps send the information that the mouth was supposed to be conveying once more. I call this thing “Verbal Fat”, and everyone has a different expression this terrible habit.

I have seen massive verbal fat before. When I was in college I was required to take some sort of public speaking class – there were two or three options. I forget exactly the name of the one that I chose, but I remember two things from it. First, the entire text of The Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carol. Second, the amount of improvement that one of my classmates had with his stutter.

I don’t remember his name, and I don’t know the particular problem that made this classmate’s ability to speak so problematic. He had an extremely severe stutter that made it downright exhausting to speak with him. It may have been some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, or something else on the Autism spectrum. It may have been a severe anxiety disorder, perhaps a form of OCD. I am not sure. I think there was something about particular types of sounds that he just couldn’t get past.

I do remember that even reacting to his name when attendance was being called the first day, he stuttered. There is exactly one syllable in the word “here” – and he stuttered over that syllable. In a public speaking class. From day one – moment one – this guy was fighting to get his words out. I know that I was not excited to be in this class with him. I am not sure what he thought about his stutter, but he seemed determined to figure something out.

And he improved.

Considering his disability, he probably improved more than I did. I learned how to memorize a short speech, and how to present it decently well, with inflections and tone and all of that. By the end of the quarter, this guy went from a starting point of stuttering over problem sounds 5 times per sentence (and getting past these problems by repeating the sound 5 times or more) to being able to get through an entire speech only stuttering 2 or 3 times.

That is downright phenomenal! I got to watch him go from being totally burdened by his stutter to it shrinking into a relatively minor (albeit very noticeable) negative social habit. It is something that I would like to witness again. To see someone take their major issues and absolutely dominate them.

He learned how to trim down the verbal fat in his dialogue. This is something that I would love to learn how to do. At the time of writing, I have exactly one podcast episode up. Pretty much the only feedback that I have gotten from it is about how much I ramble. One of the first things that I say in the episode is that I had to edit out dozens and dozens of instances of verbal fat in the form of “um” and “uhh”.

All of that is verbal fat. Things that don’t help me. Things that annoy my wonderful listeners. Things that just generally aren’t pleasant to listen to, and everyone would be better off if I would just stop doing it.

It has been nearly 8 years since I was in the class with this guy, but I distinctly remember the particular way that he dealt with his own verbal fat. Whenever he would start stuttering, he would lift his right foot about 6 inches, bending at the knee. Then he would kick it down and drive his heel strongly to the floor. The strength of his kick was apparently expressive of how severe his problem with forming any particular word.

I am going to try something with my next recording, that I have heard other people have tried when in front of a microphone. I’ve printed out those words I typed out at the beginning of this post. I am going to be recording a discussion tomorrow with a friend and I am going to put my “umm” sign on the wall above her head so that I can just look at it instead of saying it. I’ve got a second one as well that I am going to offer to put over my own head so that she can do the same.

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