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Saturday, April 28, 2012

How To Stop Saying "You Know"

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After a four year layoff from teaching, I was back in the classroom at Ohio State this spring semester.  We teach law through a Socratic dialogue, so I spent a good deal of time in question and answer exchanges with the students.  In a way I'd never noticed before my students had become infected by the verbal diarrhea of saying "you know" every other sentence (and sometimes more than once in the same sentence!).  At one point I couldn't stop myself from starting class with a few comments about this disturbing trend.  "You want to impress people—other lawyers, new acquaintances, judges, your boss—with how articulate you are," I lectured, "but if, you know, you are constantly, you know, betraying your inability to, you know, control your sentences, you're going to look bad, you know?"

This plague is everywhere from the President of the United States clowning around on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last week, to nationally-known law professors we recently brought to Ohio State making major presentations at a Sports Law event, to close friends of mine who drive me nuts by peppering their speech with this mindless repetition.  Apparently this is an international epidemic, with the equivalent of "you know" infecting languages other than English.  I've ranted about this difficulty in a prior post (see below), and, apparently, most people think I'm loony for caring about it at all.  I'm particularly appalled when I hear myself say the hated words, which happens on very, very rare occasions, when to my horror I notice I have an early symptom of the spreading infection.

Suppose, however, that you're embarrassed (as you should be) by this bad speech habit and want to stop.  This post is about how to accomplish that.

First of all, you'll need a confederate.  Choose someone you converse with a lot, and who's willing to help you become aware of every time you say the words "you know" (you can't hear it yourself).  Get him/her to promise to quickly reply "I know" every time you say "you know"—and, simple as that sounds, it's no more complicated than that.  Of course, it will be irritating to you to have your discourse interrupted like this, but that's the point!  You need to become aware of how often you've become a mindless copier of the bad speech patterns of others, and you'll begin to listen to yourself as you talk.  After numerous conversations with your "I know" friend, you'll be wary of the need to fill any pause in your thoughts with a banal repetition of "you know."

If you think this is nonsense, try this experiment: listen to how often you and your friends and people on TV or in casual conversations—stupidly, mindlessly—clutter their conversations with "you know."  Is it okay simply because everyone is doing it?  Running with the herd, dumb as the rest?  Do you want people you're trying to impress thinking of you as "stupid and mindless"?

Changing right-brain habits like this one is always a hard task, but who said you only get to do easy things in life?  If you're tired of being a slave to the phrase "you know," then strip it from your vocabulary except when it's legitimately part of your thought (as in "You know what I mean?" or "You know my sister, Mary Beth, don't you?" or "You know a lot for someone so young"). 

When you're finally cured, buy your "I know" buddy lunch and celebrate the elimination of this oral curse.  Be pleased with yourself.  Congratulations!

And then pay it forward by helping to convert someone as smitten with this disease as you once were yourself.  Hell, let's build a 12-step program of "I Know Buddies" and get the whole planet back to sounding smart.


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Related Posts:
"The Socratic Dialogue in Law School," Jan 31, 2010
"I Hate 'You Know, 'You Know,'" Nov 28, 2010
"The Left Brain, Right Brain Life," Jan 17, 2011
"Life's Little But Important Rules," Apr 23, 2011
"How To Be Perfect," Mar 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

13 comments:

  1. After you and I discussed this matter at our Symposium in Southern California several months ago, I instructed all of my law students to say "I know" or "We know" (I was indifferent as to which) whenever I said "you know." I'm not cured, but I'm doing much, much better! &:^)

    Sincerely,

    -Anonymous SoCal law prawf and devoted former student

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  2. Thank you so much. I will ask my husband to help. I wasn't sure how to go about it and you answered my dilemma.

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  3. Thanks for this info I'll try your suggestion..

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  4. Very interesting. Might give this a try since it's gotten to the point where I am becoming increasingly aggravated by hearing myself say 'you know' in virutally every other sentence. Nobody has said anything to me as yet but I'm pretty sure it's annoying them too.

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  5. I'm from Peru South America, and I have noticed that in english spoken youtube videos. At the beginning it was funny, now it's annoying hearing all the time, you know bro? you know?

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    1. Good thing you clarified that it was the Peru in South America rather than that other Peru.

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    2. there are others. Peru is also in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Your, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming to name the North American ones

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  6. I hear this on talk radio. Practically every caller says it at least once per sentence and even the talk show hosts say it just as much.

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  7. This same exercise can be applied towards the overuse of the "filler-killer" word, LIKE! Was it the 70's movie Valley Girl that started that one?

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  8. Excellent advice, now if you could get people to stop saying 'like', 'actually' and 'absolutely'.

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  9. My father went to Toastmasters to improve his speaking skills. There, a monitor was assigned to click his ballpoint pen every time a speaker used a verbal filler. I wasn't present, but I hear that click whenever I slip!

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  10. I was listening to an otherwise-intelligent physicist this morning. On a program that, ironically, was about the fact that there are things that we provably cannot know. Every other sentence she uttered whilst trying to explain this concept contained the phrase "you know?" It made for very irritating listening.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07gf4rw

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  11. My wife and I were watching the news yesterday on T.V.. Caroline Kennedy was being interviewed about relations between the U.S. and Japan. I mentioned that during her bid for public office in New York a few years ago, she was criticized for her habit of saying "you know." I added that it's a common habit and that I probably do it a lot myself. My wife chimed in that I do indeed say it sometimes. So, I am going to enlist her help in trying your remedy to rid myself of this habit. We'll see how it goes.
    And by the way- Ms. Kennedy did not say "you know" at all during the interview. She has probably had some lessons. Her speech delivery has definitely improved!

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