Emphasis in English: Misunderstanding verbalized pauses and swearing


English’s syntaxical structure poses a problem for those of us who want to emphasize and privilege certain words in our conversations.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides an interesting definition of emphasis as a rhetorical device:
a. special and significant stress of voice laid on particular words or syllables.
b. stress laid on particular words, by means of position, repetition, or other indication.

We need the ability to effectively put exclamation marks on either side of a word in our speech patterns, but English no longer uses verbalized markers (and neither do most modern romance languages). Furthermore, our syntaxical structure requires a very specific word order for sentences to make logical sense – you can’t even give a privilege of place in the sentence (putting the more important word first or last) without confusing the hell out of your listener. Some of this problem is overcome in the written form, where we CAN use italics, bold, capitals and punctuation to set off different portions of a sentence from other portions, but it is difficult to convey typeface when speaking.

Where is this all going? I am OFTEN criticized for my incessant swearing. I also use to be a chronic “like” inserter. I thought it was a sign that i thought faster than i spoke (which i still do), but i don’t think that’s the correct analysis anymore. Nothing makes a word stand out in a sentence as much as inserting either a “fucking” in front of it or a “like” on either side of it.

Example 1:

a) We had great weather today in Toronto.
b) We had fucking great weather today in Toronto.
c) We had great fucking weather today in Toronto.
d) We had great weather today in fucking Toronto.

Example 2:

a) Those cookies Veronica made were as good as sex.
b) Those, like, cookies Veronica made were as good as sex.
c) Those cookies Veronica, like, made were as good as sex.
d) Those cookies Veronica made were, like, as good as sex.
e) Those cookies Veronica made were as good as, like, sex.

I am not arguing that either of this verbal crutches are not also signs of a poor vocabularly, incompleted thoughts or other intellectual faux-pas, but i would like to argue that SOMETIMES they serve a purpose.

We need to revive enclictic endings to ends of words to make them POP when you here them… any suggestions?


2 thoughts on “Emphasis in English: Misunderstanding verbalized pauses and swearing

  1. I’ve thought about that too. The need for swearing and its link to intensity. I think that if we speak where everything is always energized and chaotic (as is the case with youth, as well as you in a different context), swearing becomes necessary for that extra oomph. However in writing those adjectives were something for me to get over. Obviously I didn’t swear, but I would use many very’s and extremely’s. I started to remove them, and realized that it works. You can say this is significant without further exclamation, but it’s relative to the way you communicate otherwise. A certain British professor we know can use the word joyous and have it mean something to the listener while we can’t. I suppose then that this leads to personal disposition and the relationship between one’s conscious experience of oneself and the meaning behind our words.

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