I mean. I feel like. I think.
These are all meaningless phrases that say precisely the same thing as “Um,” but do so while sounding less intelligent. When someone starts a sentence with, “I mean,” what they really mean is that they aren’t sure what they mean, which, by the way, is perfectly fine.
The thing is, it’s annoying because ‘Um’ is getting longer and more time consuming. Which means for every sentence that starts with, “I mean,” we’re waiting. By the end of ‘I mean, I feel like, I think,’ it’s fairly clear that clarity is lacking, which means I may not be convinced.
I’m guilty too. I use ‘um’ as a spacer on occasion. Good speakers make a concerted effort to not use ‘um,’ and there’s a good reason for that (it’s the same reason I’ve written this). When you insert nonsensical phrases into your speaking, people get confused. Those pauses, while short, provide just enough space for the mind to wander. When you insert ‘um’ or ‘I mean’ frequently, the mind wanders often. If the mind wanders more than a few times during a conversation, the other party quickly gets lost.
You can see it on their face if you’re watching. Go to a café, and watch two people talking. When one person uses ‘I mean’ and ‘I feel like’ often, you can see the other person’s mind wander. Their eyes look away, into space.
If ‘I mean’ or ‘I feel like’ is a regular part of your conversation vocabulary, there’s a good chance the person you are talking with is simultaneously thinking about something not related to you, which means your message isn’t getting through as well as it could.
If the goal of communication is to share and contribute, or even to provide instruction, less clarity doesn’t work. I feel like.
See what happened there? Adding “I feel like” to the end inserts doubt. The mind wanders.
What’s more, if you’re the one speaking, the ‘I’ in ‘I mean’ is redundant because you are inherently thinking whilst speaking. If you remove the redundancy, you can see that ‘mean’ by itself makes no sense, which in turn tells you that ‘I mean’ also makes no sense.
One can’t help but wonder what longer iteration of ‘um’ may infiltrate language next, though it may be hard to top ‘I mean, I feel like, I think’ used in succession, which happens all too frequently. I mean, like, you know? By the way, ‘like’ is another ‘um.’
I’m glad to see The New York Times is continuing this conversation; really taking it to a whole new place.
The more often ‘I feel like’ is used, the less significant it becomes. Eventually, the natural response to ‘I feel like’ is going to be, in essence, ‘I don’t care,’ because that is the only way to keep forward momentum in a conversation where ‘I feel like’ has been improperly inserted as a form of disclaimer. The alternative is to simply ignore the phrase was even uttered, which can be taken as either offensive by way of lack of acknowledgement, or as a compliment since the other party was able to hurdle the non sequitur in favor of finding the value in the statement.