Um, guys. I have some information to share with you, and fair warning, it’s, uh, going to make you scrutinize your speech for several days.
You know when you’re searching for a word, or trying to say something more nicely than you actually mean it, or trying to make up your mind after you’ve already started speaking? Whether you reach for an “um” or an “uh” in those situations might depend on whether you’re male or female.
Back in 2005, linguist Mark Liberman, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, found that usage of “uh” increases with age, but at every age, men say it more than women do. Meanwhile, usage of “um” decreases with age, but female speakers said it more than male ones at each stage in life:
Liberman also posits that “um” and “uh” portray language fluency and intelligence differently. “People tend to use UM when they’re trying to decide what to say, and UH when they’re trying to decide how to say it”. As people get older, they have less trouble deciding what to say (because they know more stuff), and more trouble deciding how to say it. As a result, older people use fewer UMs and more UHs.”
*Image of “friends” via Shutterstock