The Atlantic

Men Say 'Uh' and Women Say 'Um'

Our word-fumbles offer subtle clues about our personalities and intentions.
Source: Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters

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.

Our verbal pauses actually speak volumes: "Like," as eighth-grade English teachers will tell you, makes the speaker sound, even a difference as subtle as the one between "um" and "uh" provides clues about the speaker's gender, language skills, and even life experience.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
How Can Congress Authorize War When It Can’t Decide What War Is?
There’s bipartisan agreement that the law governing America’s wars needs an update. There’s also bipartisan agreement that it won’t happen anytime soon.
The Atlantic10 min readPolitics
Elizabeth Warren Has Momentum. Can She Build a Movement?
The senator from Massachusetts is on the verge of turning her campaign into something much larger.
The Atlantic9 min read
They Tried to Start a Church Without God. For a While, It Worked.
Secular organizers started their own congregations. But to succeed, they need to do a better job of imitating religion.