Communication is important, innit

2010

The actress Emma Thompson received much media attention this week for telling girls at her old school that she is driven insane by the interspersion of "likes" and "innits" and "aints" into people's conversation and thinks such language use is sloppy and "makes you sound stupid".

But surely it is the very fact of it being sloppy and yet still able to retain meaning that makes spoken English so user-friendly.

"Uhm, like, er, so, y'know, It's not what you say but the way that u say it drives me nuts, like, innit?" May be more long winded that saying. "Sloppy language drives me insane." but both sentences carry the same meaning.

Nevertheless Thompson's contention that words that simply skitter and snatch attention away from the main topic should not be being used, does make sense if chatterers have to speak in public.

Too many words packed into any kind of presentation clog listeners' ears and cause them to feel the same amount of confusion as they would if given too little information.

Since words used on such occasions have to define and hold on to their meaning even when being expressed down the most crackly mikes or across the largest of spaces, it is best to leave them uncluttered by the likes of "like" where it is being used merely as a gambit for thought.

Public communicators need to be more aware of the power single words have to convey ideas they want to express.

This is particularly true when using jargon - the special words or expressions belonging to particular professions or groups that are difficult for others to understand.

The problem these days is that jargon is used as a derogatory term. So much so that it often causes people to avoid using the very essence of a subject under scrutiny : its name.

For example, a doctor talking on radio the other day apologised for using the term 'immunology' in an explanation of his work because he thought it too technical for his listeners. But how could it be? Immunology is the name of the subject about which he was talking. What other term could he possibly have used that would better describe it?

Indeed, listeners are more likely to be confused by presenters who, in trying to avoid exact terms, give their own - inevitably less exact – explanation of what those terms mean.

There is no need to shy away from any word that holds succinct meaning especially nowadays when, if we don't understand it, all we have to do is Google it!

Words contain meaning. Some are weighty and require in depth consideration; some light as a feather are designed to be noticed in passing and some, deliberate and barbed snag the ear with unseemly force to make every one sit up and take notice.

When trying to get other people to take in and absorb something significant we should use only exact words and set fillers and grunts aside. But in general conversation – unless talking with someone who is known to prefer concise speech at all times – to disallow interspersions is to deny the value of sloppiness: the very malleability that for centuries has enabled English to retain its position as language of choice for speakers the world over.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.