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Forgive us our verbal tics


“If the speaker starts by saying ‘you know’, why is he telling me? He says I know already so why tell me something I know?”

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It seems there are many of us who have our little verbal hatreds.

After writing my column about words and phrases that irritate me, like “like”, I received a minor deluge (can there be such a thing as a minor deluge?) of messages from readers telling me the words they hate.

High on the hate list was the expression, “you know”, so often used to start a sentence.

One reader, also a David, said: “If the speaker starts by saying ‘you know’, why is he telling me? He says I know already so why tell me something I know?”

Thinking about it, I suspect I may be guilty of that. I often say things like: “You know, I think I’ll have another drink.” or “You know, I think I’ve had enough to drink.” Maybe it’s a shortened version of “I want you to know,” which is something quite different.

In my case I think it’s just one of those verbal habits I need to lose. It might also be an abbreviated form of “do you know?”.

Another David (there seem to be a lot of them around) had a similar gripe about people who end their statements with “know what I mean?”.

He said people who speak to him in English should accept that he understands them and not keep asking whether he knows what they mean.

One reader (not a Dave this time) said he cringed every time somebody said: “I’ll revert back to you.”

Revert back? Why not say I’ll get back, come back or report back? Can you revert any other way than back?

It’s difficult to lose bad verbal habits. In most cases the people who have them are not aware of them. They are just the ums and ers we use to give our mouths a moment to catch up with our brains.

If they irritate us we could gently point them out without being too rude: “No, in fact I don’t know, so I’m glad you told me.”

“You say you’ll meet me on like Tuesday. Is Wednesday close enough to be like Tuesday?”

“No, don’t revert back to me. I’d prefer if it reverted forward this time.”

I realise I’m being just a little petty here. We should probably be more tolerant of our verbal twitches. We should just be happy to be communicating at all. There was an old saying about the UN when it was formed back in 1945. Somebody coined the phrase: “Rather jaw jaw than war war.” So I say rather, like, revert back, you know, than not talk at all. Know what I mean?

Last Laugh

A professional musician visited his friend who was dying. He said: “George, when you’re in heaven try to get in touch with me and tell me what it’s like.”

His friend agreed and gently passed away.

A week later he appeared in a dream. “It’s amazing here! All the great musicians are gathered together – Satchmo, Glen Miller, Mozart, Beethoven, the Beatles, Elvis, they all make great music together.”

There was a pause and then he said: “There is one small problem, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, St Peter has this girlfriend who sings.”