The tics we develop in our speaking skills come from a variety of places. Family, friends, geography, and even the music we listen to can influence our cadence and diction. (We’re not saying who, but some of us may have read quite a bit of fantasy as a child and developed a predilection for saying, “Blast!” when something went wrong. You know, like a wizard does.) And since the Internet is essentially one big overflowing pile of linguistic data for scientists to mess around with, some of them are turning their attention to filler words—the little interjections we insert into our speech while we’re thinking, to fill space.
Two of the most common filler words out there are “uh” and ”um,” and Jack Grieve, a forensic linguist at Aston University in the U.K., is studying just who in the United States uses them, and where they live. Since there’s already data breaking down use of the words by gender, Grieve decided to use Twitter as a vast data set from which to cull uses of the two filler words, and break them down by geography instead. The results are fascinating, in part because they don’t seem to overlap much with any other phenomena. The use of “uh” does seem to align generally with the Midland dialect, a version of English that linguists “have suspected follows the Ohio River southwest from central Pennsylvania.” And while “um” is clearly dominant in much of the northeast and southeast, with “uh” ruling the Midwest, it gets harder to define the further west you go. Which only goes to once again show that Californians can never make up their damn minds.