4 min read

Use language well.

Day 24/100.
Low angle shot of two people sitting next to each other on a cloudy evening on a wooden floor.
Photo by Korney Violin / Unsplash

Ever heard of 'vegan meat?'

They're products that taste similar to actual meat, but are made using plant-based ingredients like soy, for example.

When I got to know this in 2018, I tried it. It tasted exactly like meat, and ever since then I've only been careful to never venture into such food adventures. It's a great way to lure non-vegetarians on to the vegan aisle. It's not meat in any way. It also spoiled the expectation of plant food for me. 🤷🏽‍♀️

This is similar to the word 'fake news'. It's just misinformation, no?

There's a problem with using language in this manner. It twists the brain to understand that the words 'meat' and 'fake' lends some kind of relatability to whatever the intended meaning of the word is. For the meat and news consumers, it's spectacular!

Xed*, a friend told me that she had a terrible experience with a package delivery. Her response to the debacle surprised me because she mentioned it multiple times during the conversation. When she said "How dare they... I will teach them a lesson." for the umpteenth time, I couldn't bear to listen to it any more. I pointed out that "teaching them a lesson" is not as important as understanding the issue and fixing it. She was offended, and rightfully so because it was unsolicited advice. I'm human too, remember? I slip.

I then explained that our job is to simply navigate the problem. Both parties will eventually learn something of it.

Xed was not only taken aback, but disagreed yet again, saying that the way I communicated it affected her. She wanted me to use words like I feel, I think, in my humble opinion, sort of, kind of, etc. These are filler words. Of course, being at the receiver's end is terrible, so I apologised to her and evaluated my choice of words, and her suggestion to use filler words.

Do you know what happens when you use filler words? The value of your opinion diminishes, and you sound less authoritative. So even when you're pointing out a mistake, it makes the other party want to hear you out. A classic technique that hinges on using self-doubt to get a point across. In situations where you don't use filler words, the intonation and pauses make up for it. The sound of the statement also seems like a question. There's a term for this kind of talking: upspeak, or uptalk.

Watch the video below to understand what upspeak/uptalk is:

Have you watched the video? Does it remind you of a certain American President?

No? Okay then.

Janan Ganesh from the Financial Times makes an interesting point about upspeak in how to talk your way to the top.

I have seen enough meetings, parties, job interviews, broadcast slots, panel events and dates to sense which habits of speech harm a person’s standing with others, sometimes without either side quite knowing it. They include the filler words “like” and, in England, “sort of”, often pronounced, with nervous speed, “siddiv”. They include starting a sentence with, “I guess . . . ” and ending it with, “Does that make sense?” They include, above all, the interrogative tone in non-interrogative statements.

What links these familiar but far from exhaustive examples is their disclosure of self-doubt. And not the endearing kind. “Like” stems from a deep fear of pauses, lest the other person stops listening. Upspeak is a constant probing for approval. These tics are all the worse in a non-American as they suggest a further, almost meta lack of confidence: that in one’s own culture.

"Upspeak is a constant probing for approval."

Or... in my humble opinion, seeks to please everyone at the table. 😉

Do I agree with this? Of course I do. But I also dislike watering my thoughts down, and I usually like to sound confident.

The language you use when you think of a situation matters a lot. It changes how you approach the situation. Here, I took away a learning about upspeak. But as is everything with language and the sounds of it, using words like 'fake news' or 'vegan meat' panders to an audience (because they want sales!) and distorts the true meaning.

For someone that has used upspeak for far too long and has worked very hard on her ability to talk clearly, using upspeak feels like a thing of the past. So, am I going to incorporate it? Nope. (Although 'I'm not sure' would've been a fitting way to end the post)

Should you incorporate it in your speech? Think about it. Explore different ways of talking before saying no to something, because language is a personal choice.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Dear supporter! 👋 Thanks for stopping by. I’m Swathi, a writer, reader and a language nerd. I write about all things life, tech, reading and writing. As someone...