Tuesday 29 June 2010

Filler Words: Part The First

I was once reading what I thought was an utterly awful novel. It was only when I got to page 14 and found the word "drugstore" that I realised that I wasn't reading stilted, rhythmless, English: I was reading very good American.

This, dear reader, is a problem. When you speak you have the advantage both of body and of accent. When you write you do not. Your words, which in your head were a ferocious rant or a bewitching drawl, on the page are lame, dull and denuded of voice.

This problem is also very easily solved. What you need are filler words. Every language has them.

I saw a good film last night.

I saw a jolly good film last night.

The first (although it might be informative and factual) is a dead sentence. The second tells you how to read it. It is as though the sentence came with an instruction booklet: the voice is British and posh. Moreover, having put that one word in the first sentence the reader will have got the idea and you may now continue ad infinitum and nauseam with your film review, safe and secure in the knowledge that your reader, whoever he, she or it happens to be, will be reading it in the voice that you intend.

Voice in literature is an infinitely complex and subtle business. Filler words cannot do the whole job, but they will do half of it and will do that work for No Effort Whatsoever on your part. If that American novel had simply used the word goddamned in the first sentence I would not have been tempted to throw it on the fire.

So, for your delight, instruction and edification here are some filler words, insertable almost anywhere, along with what I consider to be their implications:

[All English, unless otherwise stated. Most would go at the beginning of a sentence, especially those followed by a comma]

Jolly = Posh
Jolly well = Posher
I mean = Intense student
I believe = Slightly overintellectual and careful
Honestly, = Middle-aged female
Awfully = Posh
Achingly = Aesthete
Bleedin' = London
Believe me = Gossip
The thing is = Chronic debater
That's as maybe, but = Straight-talking common man
I think = Dull as ditchwater
I suspect = Clever
I imagine = Whimsical
I suppose = Amiable
I asseverate = Call the asylum
Let me tell you = No. I won't.
Indeed, = Academic
Indubitably, = Wooeeah
Utterly = Solidly built, middle-class male with obedient children
Hell, = American
Awesome = American
You know, = Probably American, but not the kind I like
Oh and = Female (for reasons I would find hard to explain)
Simply = Ditto. Aren't they simply lovely?
Therefore, necessarily, of course, obviously, you have to admit, so, it follows, logically = Male (because we love to delude ourselves by dressing in the clothes of logic)
Jesus mate, = Not an order to Our Lord that he should reproduce, but an Australianism
I would like to point out that = Prick
Frightfully = Posh
You know what? = ********in*
Anyway, = refreshing insofar as it does down everything you've just been saying. Infuriating for the same reason.
The interesting thing is = Then why didn't you cut the last bloody paragraph?
Intense(ly) = Passionate and (almost) intellectual
Rather = Chappish
Pretty = Middle-Class
Kind of = Hippy
, know what I mean? = Not necessarily

Now, dear reader, you may shudder at this requirement. You may feel that your voice is so godfuckdamned unique that no such filler word could ever do it justice. But remember that without them your voice may not be unique, it may simply be non-existent. Pick one. Go on.

Conversationally, I think. When writing Inky Fool I usually imagine. That's because someone I'm having a conversation with can tell by my demeanour that I'm a whimsical sort of fellow. A blog reader cannot, so I have to change my words. A voice can be infinitely modulated after you have set it up, but why not give your reader a clue as to what it is to be modulated from? Put a filler word in the first sentence. It is a courtesy. Then set to work on the fine tuning.

It's a jolly goddamned peach of a, like, idea.


Of course these are just my own associations. Queries and contradictions in the comments, please. I think there will be further posts on exclamations and endearments, intensifiers and disapprobators. Suggestions welcome.

(This is also a far better way to denote accent than by just spelilng evrey wrogn.)

Hell, yeah.

P.S. Thanks to Moptop, who inspired this post, even if it horridly fails to answer her question.


  1. I was just copied in on an email to someone's PA that said "Jolly well done, Camilla". Two helpful signifiers of poshness in one short sentence - "jolly" and having a PA called Camilla.

  2. Americans put hey into sentences. But, hey, they're American.

  3. spelilng evrey wrogn

    This jolly well made me snort! lol :)

  4. David Cameron uses 'frankly' a fair bit. The more cross he is about an issue the franker he becomes, frankly.

    Count 'em and marvel.

    (Awfully super post, Dogberry!)

  5. This is fantastic, and I do not know how I haven't found you before.

    My own version of these fillers would certainly be an interesting read - I'm Australian. Starting my blog has caused me to realise that we do have turns of phrase unique to us, but they're not the ones that most people would think of. Some people do speak very 'stereotypicallly Aussie', though, usually those from the country. You won't hear things like 'grouse', 'Sheila' or even 'g'day' in the city. Thankfully!

  6. One of the Antipodeans30 June 2010 at 15:50


    This is one of those posts which makes me enormously self-conscious and want to comment at the same time. I mean, how do you define yourself as a language-loving over-educated Australian raised on English children's literature in one word? Apart from, I dunno, calling yourself The Antipodean. Only, then there are all these other well-read Australians commenting (apparently there are three of us) and you wonder if you should be, like, "One of the Antipodeans, the one that likes cricket and Shakespeare and men with lovely manners and dressing gowns" but that doesn't fit in the little box. And I am complicated, darling, if not unique, so instead I shall just politely suggest that you might mean 'your delight.'

    Jade, I have said 'g'day' more than once in a metropolitan setting, albeit more often in a rural one. It's a good all-purpose greeting. So it doesn't sound as magnifique as 'bonjour' (what does random French mean, m'sieur?) but it's just as useful.

    I think I need to stop now, before the post-modern, self-conscious, Ouroborosity of it all swallows me whole.

  7. One of the Antipodeans, the one that likes cricket and Shakespeare and men with lovely manners and dressing gowns, she30 June 2010 at 16:04

    I take it back, it fits in the box - would anyone mind if I used it from now on? It would fulfil several functions. What I actually wanted to say was:

    Is anything signified if you say 'Part the First' instead of 'Part One' or even Part 1? Did someone do it a long time ago, and they're just being copied still, or is it something that sounds old?

  8. Miss Podean,
    I think I was thinking of The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits, in which the sections are titled Fit the First, Fit the Second etc.

    Or perhaps I was being subconsciously monarchical.

  9. I do hope this means there will be a Part the Second.

  10. lovely!

    but how about dude! - I can just hear that voice in my head simply because my brother came from a 'dude!' student life.

    Of course there's also 'darling! you must come and visit some time' (can't just hear her voice dripping), 'my dear woman / child / man'.

    And then in South Africa we have 'eish' and 'leka', if anyone is interested, which they usually are not because not matter which way you use them, all our cultural fillers make people sound common. So we'll probably use the British fillers to denote class.

  11. The Antipodean, considering 'Miss Podean' but wonders if it could mean 'of the feet,' and then if 'miss' were misinterpreted what would people think? Anyway, she stopped wondering and5 July 2010 at 17:01

    Well, Your Subconscious Highness, extensive research (and/or ten minutes on Google) reveals usage of 'Part The First' in the following:

    Handel's Messiah (1741)
    Rights of Man (1791) by Thomas Paine
    "A catalogue of books (MDCCXCIII) Part the first, ... Which are this day selling" by John Egerton
    Evangeline (1847) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    The Battle of Life (1846) by Charles Dickens,
    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    It would therefore appear to be of good provenance. Since I didn't put much more work into it than that, I'm not really sure whether Handel actually wrote 'Part the First' or that was added by a publisher or editor somewhere along the line. Mr Egerton, though, has it in his title, along with Roman numerals, so I think he should get bonus points.

  12. Which "rather" are we talking about ?

    "You sound rather miffed to me, old chap" ?


    "Would you like to go down to the woods today ?"

    "Rah-*ther* !"

  13. Almost forgot: why is "basically" missing ? And "The thing is..." ?