You know, I mean

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Almost a decade ago, Matt Hutson asked me whether "there are underlying personality differences between people who punctuate (litter?) their speech with 'you know' versus those who use 'I mean' more frequently" ("I mean, you know", 8/19/2007). I wasn't able to offer any insight into personality associations, but looking in the LDC conversational speech corpus, I did find some associations with age, education, and gender.

Recently I've been transcribing some political speeches and interviews, and I've noticed that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are rather polarized on this dimension.

Here's the age data from that 2007 post:

"you know"

"I mean"

"you know"/"I mean"

And the education effect:

"you know"

"I mean"

"you know"/"I mean"
High school

And the (very small) sex effect:

"you know"

"I mean"

"you know"/"I mean"

And here's one sample for our current major-party political candidates, taken from Hillary Clinton's 6/22/2016 interview with Vox and Donald Trump's 8/11/2016 telephone interview with CNBC:

"you know"

"I mean"

"you know"/"I mean"
Hillary Clinton 45 8 5.62
Donald Trump 25 30 0.83

I've excluded uses like "as you know" and "what I mean is", and counted only  fillers  like these:

what she does is illegal she's done many illegal things I mean her emails that's illegal

and to you know say "hey roofer come down I'm substituting this man for you"

The overall rate (of "you know" + "I mean") is similar in these interviews — for Clinton it was

1000*(45+8)/5985 = 8.9 per thousand words

and for Trump it was

1000*(25+30)/5329 = 10.3 per thousand words

I suspect that Trump's unusually large proportion of "I mean" usage in this interview is atypical — in his 12/21/215 Grand Rapids rally the "you know"/"I mean" ratio was 2.32 — and may have something to do with an attempt to stick to his message and to be mindful of what he says.

And by the way (as Mr. Trump likes to say), his CNBC interview also showed an unusually large number of filled pauses for him. In his off-the-cuff rally addresses there are almost no filled pauses — for example in my transcript of his 12/21/215 Grand Rapids rally he used "uh" just 5 times in 11023 words, for a rate of 0.5 per thousand words. In contrast, in the CNBC interview, he used "uh" 74 times in 5329 words, for a rate of 14 per thousand words. (In neither recording did he ever use "um".)

Trump's CNBC filled-pause rate is still relatively low — compare Hillary Clinton's Vox interview, where she used "uh" 210 times and "um" 28 times in 5985 words, for a total filled-pause rate of

1000*238/5985 or about 40 per thousand words.

In fact, she uses filled pauses more often than "the", which she uses 197 times in that interview, for a rate of about 33 per thousand words. Trump's "the" rate is similar — 194 times in 5329 words, or about 36 per thousand words.

In the past, I've speculated that Trump's strikingly repetitive rhetoric might be the residue of wanting (or being trained) to avoid filled pauses. In this case, I get the impression that Trump's higher rate of "uh" usage arises when he's trying to be careful about how he answers a question.  For example

Interviewer:  I want to ask you about the rally last night in Florida that you reference, where you called the president of the United States the founder of ISIS.
You said it repeatedly, President Obama is the found of ISIS, he's the founder, he founded ISIS.
Do you think it's appropriate to call the sitting president of the United States the founder of a terrorist organization that wants to kill Americans?
Donald Trump: uh he was the founder of ISIS
uh absolutely
uh the way he
removed our troops
I- you shouldn't have gone in I was against the war in Iraq
I was totally against it even though I was a civilian so nobody cared
but we shouldn't have been in Iraq I would not have been in Iraq if I were president
but that mistake was made it was a horrible mistake one of the
worst mistakes in the history of our country we destabilized the middle east
we've been paying the price for it for years
but he was the founder absolutely the founder in fact
he gets the- in sports they have awards
he gets the most valuable player award him and Hillary
I mean she gets it too I gave them co-founder if you really looked at the speech
I think you probably did
but Hil- he and Hillary get the most valuable player award having to do with Iraq
and- and having to do with- uh with the ISIS situation or as he would call it ISIL
he calls it ISIL because nobody else does and probably wants to bother people by using a different term
uh and whether it's more accurate or not
most people call it ISIS he calls it ISIL
he was the founder
and so was she I mean I call them co-founders



  1. Bob Ladd said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

    So is there any connection between this and the UM/UH difference that you discovered a year or two ago? From your tables, it appears that less educated older women should have the highest proportion of "you know", and highly educated younger men the highest proportion of "I mean". It probably wouldn't take much to build a nice just-so story around that difference, but surely it would be more interesting to see if it can be related to other filled-pause behaviour.

  2. KeithB said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

    And was Trump really being "sarcastic" with these remarks? Isn't the word he is looking for "exaggeration" or "hyperbolic"

  3. Paul W said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 4:20 pm

    Is there a geographic pattern in your 2007 data? Do midwesterners (HRC) use "you know" more frequently than in the northeast (DJT), and so on.

  4. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 5:01 pm

    I rarely hear "you know" by itself nowadays. What I do hear much too much is "You know what I mean?" or "You know what I'm saying?", often without the "You." I find it very annoying and I usually respond by saying, "Yes, you mean" or "Yes, you're saying" and then repeating verbatim what the person said immediately before that phrase.

  5. Jonathan D said,

    August 14, 2016 @ 7:13 pm

    What does the education effect look like once you control for age?

  6. Bloix said,

    August 15, 2016 @ 1:55 pm

    "I rarely hear "you know" by itself nowadays."
    What I hear, continuously from all sides, is "y'ow," or some sort of n-less strangled cat hairball puking contraction of y'know that makes me want to jump up and screech and stick ice-picks in my ears because I HATE IT SO MUCH.

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