It’s the awkward pause on a first date. When you can’t think of anything to say, “um” or “uh” is what naturally comes out. A new study says your gender determines which language filler you are more likely to use. For men, it’s more common to say “uh,” and for women, it’s “um” when searching for the right words.
Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania and blogger at Language Log was determined to understand why men and women choose certain verbal pauses when communicating. He says your filler words say a lot about your gender, language skills, and even life experiences.
In his study, Liberman analyzed 14,000 transcribed phone conversations — a total of 26 million words and included 12,000 speakers from the United States. In his prior research, he found that "uh" is used more as you age. This time, he discovered that “uh” is most commonly used by men and “um” is more commonly used by women.
Based off of Liberman’s most recent research, women use “um” 22 percent more than men. "Males use “uh” about 14 percent less often when talking with a female rather than a male, and females use “um” about 20 percent more often when talking with a male rather than a female," Liberman writes. He also found that almost the same percentage of young men and older women use “um."
In Liberman’s 2001 report, he found that men use language fillers more than women, but women use certain language fillers such as “like,” “you know,” and “I mean” more than men. He explained that women used fillers like these because they are more empathetic and conscientious. Women also laugh 60 percent more in conversation than men do and use "uh-huhs" and "mm-hmms" when communicating more often than men.
More research suggests that your choice of language fillers is not just based off of your gender, but could be a result of language fluency and intelligence. "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," Liberman told The Atlantic.
In Liberman’s 2013 study, he examined the most common words men and women use on social media sites like Facebook. Men tend to use more profanity, while women post words like "shopping," "excited," and of course, the popular heart symbol "<3."
Source: Mark Liberman. Man and femal word usage. Language Log. 2014.