Sunday, February 18, 2007

from this slate article comes the following bit of wisdom.

"Interjections are suitable for online writing, as I say, because of the way online writing mimics speech. But newspaper and magazine writers who spell out interjections and other vocalisms run the risk of coming off as cute—as in yucky ew rather than adorable awwa. Most egregiously abused are what linguists call "discourse markers"—short sounds (it seems a stretch to call them "words") that speakers use to register hesitation, agreement, encouragement, ambivalence, and other responses. Uh, er, and um, in particular, have been flagrantly overused by feature writers and columnists to signal an impending attempt at irony or humor; the maneuver is now well beyond cliché, somewhere in the neighborhood of desperation. A LexisNexis search of major English-language newspapers for um yields 132 hits in just the last week, including a striking number in various newspapers' coverage of the Grammy Awards:

The Toronto Sun's preview: "Watch for Justin Timberlake pairing up with someone in a duet (which often can be quite, um, revealing)."

The Chicago Sun-Times, looking back on a winner of yore: "the Starland Vocal Band, who gave us the, um, unforgettable single, 'Afternoon Delight.' "

The Oregonian, referring to Christina Aguilera: "the girl who was once known as much for her, um, dirrtyness showed she cleans up real nice, too."

So there you have it. stop using UM so goddamned much. it makes you sound stupid.

I agree that these interjections can become a crutch, a shortcut to sounding conversational but I can see the benefit of these "words." They do indeed make for a looser reporting style and in the world of entertainment news breeziness of reporting has always been valued over say, facts. If I read an article about Iraq that read

"George bush is, um, an idiot."

George Bush might well be an idiot but I'd think the writer was a cutesy dumbshit for putting in that "Um." Somehow the use of interjections is more acceptable when the stakes aren't so high. People covering the Grammies know they aren't reporting anything earth-shattering. People reading an article about the Grammies know they're going to find some useless information peppered amongst some flippant commentary. If everyone is in agreement that the "news" doesn't really matter then why not throw in a "Feh" here and there?

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