New research shows that when people use a lot of filler words and phrases (“like,””um,””you know,”etc.) it means that they are simply conscientious and thus, diligent about being attentive to the conversation at hand. For a long time, decades now, it has been thought that the “Valley Girl” way of speaking somehow signified you were “dumb” or didn’t have an extensive enough vocabulary to replace those “likes” and “ums” with more substantial words.
According to The Journal of Language and Social Psychology:
The possible explanation for this association is that conscientious people are generally more thoughtful and aware of themselves and their surroundings. When having conversations with listeners, conscientious people use discourse markers, such as ‘I mean’ and ‘you know,’ to imply their desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients. Thus it is expected that the use of discourse markers may be used to measure the degree to which people have thoughts to express.
What this is means it that people who actually care about what you and who are choosing their words more carefully are more likely to use filler words. Think about it this way, if you care about how you are being perceived and then suddenly have to speak in public, you’re probably going to get a little nervous and stumble.
I am generally against judging people by how they speak. There’s a lot of controversy over the way people from certain regions speak, which I find to be quite obnoxious. There was a lot of controversy over the idea that Southern teachers shouldn’t teach their students to have Southern accents because they would be perceived as dumb and don’t even get me started on the whole racial discussions about “ebonics.” Like in most countries people have regional accents, what is the big deal? In America we arbitrarily decided that the Midwestern accent was the “most acceptable” and “refined” for absolutely no reason. People who don’t speak in this way are considered “stupid” because they have different inflections or abbreviate words. It’s just all silly.
Listen to what people are saying, listen to what they mean, that’s the only way to know if there’s wisdom in their words or not.