Finding “Um”

…in one of the greatest moments of interviewing in public radio Bob Edwards, as the thought is forming in your head, Bob Edwards says to the guy, “You never say um?”

I have emailed NPRBob Edwards, and lobbied the This American Life staff trying to find this 20-year-old interview.

The Ogg and MP3 versions, just in case you are on mobile.

Research So Far

If you have any ideas or want to help, PLEASE leave it in the comments!

NPR’s online transcripts only go back to 1990 AND the search isn’t working.

National Public Broadcasting Archives has the analog tape reels, but their search isn’t working either.

Searching for ‘speech um’ 1980-1990 returns 12,000 results on Google Scholar and ‘speech um  filler pause’ returns over 150 articles.  With >2 authors and EVEN THEN the original paper might not have used the word ‘filler’ or ‘pause’.

The only person we haven’t heard from is Bob Edwards.  I’ve used the online contact form as well as his (apparently defunct) Tumblr blog.

This American Life

On May 2, 2013, Nice TAL Staffer <***> wrote:

I talked to Ira and he says he thinks it may have aired even before 1990. He suggests we look into finding out who that academic might have been rather than looking for the piece.

Hope this helps!
-Nice TAL Staffer

On May 2, 2013, Zac Lym wrote:

I’ve even tried academic databases of NPR transcripts going back to 1990, I can’t find anything!

On May 1, 2013, Nice TAL Staffer <***> wrote:

Hi Zach, I can’t find it either. I think Ira gave the requisite information to find it, if it were available in some corner of the internet. I’ll keep on looking because now I have to hear it too! And I’ll ask Ira and see if he knows.

Hope this helps!
-Nice TAL Staffer

Morning Edition

We appreciate your interest in NPR programming.

We are unable to find interview with the scientist  based on the information provided.   What day did Ira mention this interview?  We need more details about the segment.

NPR Audience and Community Relations


Ian Chillag
Here is from Stella, “How do I avoid saying ”˜um’ when I am being interviewed on the radio?”

Ira Glass
This reminds me of one of the greatest interviews that was ever on Morning Edition, back when a guy named Bob Edwards hosted it, which is a few years back now. He interviewed somebody who had done a study of the word ”˜um’ and when people say it.

This interview goes on for three or four minutes.  At some point, as a listener, you become aware that as this researcher is laying out all the different times that people say ”˜um’ and the reasons that they say ”˜um’ and the sort of nervous moments that lead people to say ”˜um’ you realize, at some point, that this interviewee never says ”˜um’.

Just at that point (in one of the greatest moments of interviewing in public radio) Bob Edwards… as the thought is forming in your head, Bob Edwards says to the guy, “You never say um?”

The guy says, “No; in fact it’s became the bane of my existence.” and he gives this whole incredibly poetic and deeply tragic soliloquy about how he has banished the word ”˜um’ from his speaking voice, and how, in fact, it’s driven him kind of crazy and driven crazy the people around him because it has so distorted the pattern of normal speech for him to vanquish the word ”˜um’.

By the end of the whole thing (and the entire thing is probably four and a half minutes) you are glad that you say the word ”˜um’ because he seems like such a crazy person.

All I would say is, take a lesson and ”˜um’.

Ian Chillag
Well Ira, thank you very much for helping us clear up all of these questions.

Ira Glass
Glad to be of service.

From the How To Do Everything podcast episode 63, E-mail, Burps, and Ira Glass

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