Historian Gives Speaking Advice to Graduates

If you want to improve the world, eliminate filler words such as “you know” and “like.”  That’s what Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough told the graduates of Boston College Monday during the school’s commencement ceremony.

“Please, please do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation,” McCullough said.

McCullough said he’s particularly troubled by the “relentless, wearisome use of words” such as like, awesome and actually.

“Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, ’Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually,” he said.

As a public speaking coach, it’s hard not to applaud someone taking the time to urge young people to eliminate filler words.  But McCullough is wrong to imply that it’s a young people’s problem.  Go to any boardroom in corporate America and you’ll hear plenty of Vice Presidents and CFOs uttering filler words like “uhh” and ” you know.”

Out of curiousity, I typed “Like” and “you know” into the search engine for YouTube and found a clip from poet and performance artist Taylor Mali.

This is Mali performing his work  “Totally like whatever, you know?”


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