Joe Biden's overuse of 'literally' shows why filler words matter

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Vice President Biden's aggressive use of "literally" in his speech to the Democratic National Convention Thursday night is the talk of the Internet Friday. How big is the topic? The Obama campaign literally bought the term on Twitter.

Jen Doll has written a cracking guide to what such "crutch words" say about their user. "As it were" is the drug of choice for "the most self-aware of crutch-word users." "Apparently" is "oft used by the blogger, because it's a way of getting out of a tricky situation." "Honestly": "The frequency with which you deploy this word is inversely related to the frequency with which you are actually honest."

A possible addition: "Alas," which is a sure sign you are a theater critic.

Juli Weiner writes an unexpectedly poetic defense of Biden's usage:

Literally, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lit-er-ril-ee: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of four steps down the palate to tap, at four, on the teeth. Lit. Er. Ril. Ee.

Superflous words are part of one profession's business model: Auctioneers use them and call them "filler words." Martin Kaste reported on those for NPR earlier this summer. Scott Mihalic, a competitor at an auctioneers convention, told Kaste about his filler words, "will you give." (Check out Mihalic in action!)

KASTE: Mihalic says the choice of filler words is a matter of personal style and sometimes the inspiration of the moment.

MIHALIC: Will you make it? Will you go? I'll say dollar down, able to buy them, like....

In a post on his blog last year, auctioneer Mike Brandly worried that filler words can add 30 percent more time to an auction. As with rented convention halls, in auctions, uh, time is literally money, as it were. Seriously.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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