A new Goldman State Podcast drops every Friday!

May 31, 2024

Five Irritating Fill-Ins for Your Next Small-Talk Session

Closing out the month with, um, panache

By Ed Goldman

Today’s the last day of May and I’d like to comment on it but, uh, um, well, ya know…. .

That reads pretty stupidly, doesn’t it? And yet, if we ran into each other today and I said it aloud, it’d sound pretty natural. It might even prompt you to respond, “Hey, like, I hear ya” or the currently ubiquitous, apparently rhetorical question, “Right?!” 

Edgy Cartoon
And they say there are no men of vision left…

“Right?!” is said to ensure we both share the same cosmic truths. But by being both a question and an affirmation—note the question mark followed by the exclamation point—there’s an implied, if temporary, humility. If you strung it into a fully loaded statement, it’d be along the lines of “Do you think I’m correct? How I fervently hope and maybe even know that you do!”

It seems that as we’ve become a more verbal society—”verbal” meaning word-related, not, as is often assumed, “oral”—we’ve also become addicted to filling in the blanks with meaningless non-sequiturs and guttural grunts.

I’m talking er, un, uh, oh, om, oy, ah, etc., like, basically, so, ya know, actually, wellI mean and the all-purpose whatever. If you’re into transcendental meditation, you can even throw in an “om,” which may very well be your mantra but also buys you a little time as you’re searching for either your inner peace or your prayer linoleum tile.

Since we’re entering a season of casual social interaction—afternoon soirees, cocktails by the pool, baseball games and disease-infested ocean cruises—I thought this might be a good time to provide a mercifully brief Lexicon of Irritating Fill-Ins.

1. “er“—Have you ever actually said “er”? Do you know of any people who have, unless they thought this was how you pronounce the common nickname for “emergency room”? If the latter were so, can you imagine the confusion you’d encounter when dialing 911? 

“I need help! My husband just swallowed a partially filled pickleball and is turning magenta!”

“Are you close to a hospital ER?” 

“To a hospital’s ‘er’ what? Be specific!”


“A hospital parking lot, a hospital gift shop, what?! Just spit it out!”  

 2. “uh“—This sounds enough like the schwa pronunciation of “a” (as in sofa) for confusion to ensue. 

For example, if you’re simply trying to gather your thoughts and using “uh” as a stall, and then you follow it up with the word “egg” you’ll run the risk of people thinking you’ve just asked for “a egg.” This will make them think you’re a simpleton and not deserving of breakfast. 

3. “om“—As aforementioned, this is generally used as a mantra, though non-Zen, heavily accented Bostonians may utter it instead of “um”. Your job as a listener is to determine if the speaker is a Boston Brahmin (old money) or an Indian Brahmin (ancient truths). Study guides will be available at this website in uh while.

4. “oy“—While this common term of exasperation is thought to be Yiddish, Brits change the spelling to “oi” (which you can’t see when spoken aloud, natch) as a word of alert. Like: “Oi, don’t go innah that pub ‘less you love their fav’rite football team.” 

Looking for a Great Gift?

It’s also how some Cockney guys greet each other and refer to themselves. Ergo, a Cockney Jew might say, “Oi, Oi wouldn’t go into that pub and make fun of their fav’rite football team. If you do, oy! Oi don’t wanna think about what’ll ‘appen.” 

(For younger readers, “soccer” is “football” in every country on the planet except the U.S. But we have Taylor Swift, so it all evens out.)

5. “ya know”—Yes, the other person (“ya”) may very well know. But by stretching out what will surely be an inane remark by using this mini-phrase as a preface, what you’ll really be suggesting is “ya” may know but you don’t.

We’ll take this up again in a future column—like, whenever.

Don’t forget! A new Goldman State Podcast drops every Friday!


Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).