Many an idle hour is spent dreaming up possible blog posts in my mind. I had a good Michael Jackson post up there, but then this one guy from the Wall Street Journal wrote this excellent, amazing piece about how Michael Jackson was a victim of his own demons and his own … uh… well, I recommend you read the piece.
So, you know, once you read a way-more-eloquent version of something you were thinking about doing, it's like moot becomes the word of the day.
I also thought about doing this one angry entry about something angry. The problem with dreaming up angry entries is that I am a total pussy and I can only be really angry and confrontational within the confines of my own mind or with people who will just look at me with a chilling, "Down, chihuahua" look and won't mind my pitiable bursts of anger (hi mom!). So I end up getting all this pent up anger inside about trivialities, and then I end up feeling even worse about thinking such negative thoughts about, say, acrylic nails, or Nissan cars, or people who update their Facebook status too often, or people who put Redskins pyjamas on the neck bolsters of their cars.
And then I feel bad for feeling bad (because acrylic nails are horribly tacky! and they foster fungal infections! and they make your existing nails weaker and thinner, creating a cycle of dependence! and they are unnaturally thick! and they make an awful sound when they rattle against one another!), and so the cycle continues.
In the end, however, I seem to be favoring writing about "uh" versus "er".
This will be a whirlwind of a discussion because I am not an expert linguist, but it seems to me that Americans should not use "er" in written language when they mean that they took a significantly long pause that indicated doubt or hesitation. Or rather, only Americans who speak in non-rhotic accents should ever write in "er"– I'm thinking a nasal Bostonian wondering, deep in his memoirs, whether he should reveal his penchant for not tossing the peanut shells on the floor at a Red Sox game, for instance. He can go ahead and spell his hesitation as "er" and it will not make a whit of a difference.
Everyone else gets to write "uh".
I understand that there may be bias against "um" because it makes people sound kind of simple. And so of course "er" being all Britishy-sophisticated –and doesn't everything sound (and apparently spell) better with a British accent?– makes people feel dignified when they pause. It wasn't an I'm-dumb pause; it was, rather, an All-the-choices-I-have! pause. Everyone wants their pauses to be classy and not Valley-girl-ish, I understand.
But hey, you're doubtful and you're not sure or you're pausing long enough for a reason, and let's face it: you're not going to be pronouncing that letter R in there so you shouldn't put it in there when you're writing. Do you really have time to think about your image at that crucial uncertain time? Are you trying to rewrite history to make yourself a more genteel, less brutish and less "uh…" kind of person?
Uh… I don't think so.
You’re so funny. I’m not keen on acrylic nails myself, but what have you against Nissan cars?
I’m partial to “um” as filled pauses go. At least the written ones. I’m not sure which I use more in spoken language.
You know something funny about “er”? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people use it in spoken language with the rhoticized /r/. (And I’m so impressed that you mention the term non-rhotic!) I think this may be one of those usages where a pronunciation devolves from a written form. (Damn, there’s a term for that phenomenon, but I can’t remember it. Maybe it will come to me when I’m trying to fall asleep. Which should be soon. Where was I? Oh right. Spelling.) Anyhow, I’m thinking of cases like people saying “tisk, tisk” as a pronunciation of “tsk, tsk,” which is supposed to represent a click.
Hang on! What’s the prob with Nissans? (Asked the 20-year Nissan owner). Do they kill baby kittens? Are they responsible for the extinction of the unicorns? IF NISSAN HAS DONE SOMETHING AWFUL, I NEED TO KNOW BEFORE I BUY ANOTHER ONE!