10 February 2008

Tell Me What You Mean

Has anyone else noticed the growing trend of the verbal pause "I mean..."? I first became aware of its use in the speech patterns of my community of friends about a year and a half ago. It seems to have replaced the use of "like" as an opening to a statement or as a pause to collect thoughts and organize a sentence. It's typically pronounced very quickly, but with a drawn out emphasis on the "e" sound. Like any verbal pause, it serves no purpose in communication and adds no meaning to a sentence, yet I'm hearing this phrase pop up everywhere.

It's interesting to think about trends in verbal communication... how does such a trend get started? Why "I mean" ? Did someone start doing it one day and it just caught on?

I know I personally adapt my speech patterns and vocabulary based on the people I hang out with and how they speak. There are certain people who hear me say "oh snap!" and others will hear "hey-oooo!" as a response to the same situation. I'm certain that my use of "I mean..." developed from others using the phrase. It tends to bother me when I hear myself use it, but only because I favor being brief and concise when I speak. Now and then I'll notice a person use it several times in a short conversation and it gets on my nerves =)

For the next few days, set a mental flag for use of the phrase "I mean..." and see how many times you hear it used in conversation.


  1. I think (that's okay with you?) that the phrase is used when someone opens their mouth, but their thought hasn't fully formed yet. The phrase sort of falls into the category with "um" and "well".

    I mean, I wouldn't really know about this stuff. :)

  2. That's exactly right. The definition of verbal pause is any word or sound that you make when you're formulating thoughts.

  3. I think this one is Lisa and I more than most people you know- I've noticed that we in particular seem to indulge in disproportionately high use of 'I mean...' In fact, if you look at our chat logs, it's basically the beginning of every line. :)

  4. interesting that you use it in textual form, too!

  5. i think that casey is right, we do both do it a whole lot. another one i'm terrible about is "you know". i talk so fast you'd think i wouldn't need fillers, but i'd make an excellent case study for this to be totally honest.