(Photo: Elvert Barnes)
We all do it when we're talking. As we're trying to come up with words to express, we say "um" or "uh." Linguists call these expressions filled pauses. Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying them for about 10 years. He's gathered and analyzed a lot of data about who uses which of these terms. BBC News describes his findings:
"As Americans get older, they use 'uh' more," he says. "And at every age, men use 'uh' more than women."
If you look at "um", exactly the opposite is true. Younger people say "um" more often than older people. And no matter the age, women say "um" more than men.
Liberman and his colleagues have also studied these interjections in other Germanic languages. What they've noticed is that the dominance of "uh" has been eroding over time. More and more people prefer "um." Josef Fruehwald, a sociolinguist at the University of Edinburgh, doesn't understand why this change is taking place. But it's clearly happening:
"When you have two options, you can start using one more frequently and maybe replace the other one so that it's no longer an option," he says. "So why 'um'? It's just one of these things. There's always a little bit of randomness to the whole situation."
-via Marginal Revolution