Um, same words again?

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Paul Krugman, "Why America Is Getting Tough on Trade", NYT 12/12/2022:

Since 1948 trade among market economies has been governed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which sets certain ground rules for, um, tariffs and trade.

This quotation illustrates two things we've previously covered — avoiding re-use of words and phrases ("Ask LLOG: Re-use considered harmful?", 12/5/2022), and "awkward UM" ("Um, tapes?", 1/29/2019, and "UM/UH Geography", 8/13/2014).



  1. Michael M said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 4:49 am

    Online really common online use is 'checks notes'. As in, 'the US already has an agency for environmental protection, called *checks notes* the Environmental Protection Agency.'

    The asterisks indicating a parenthetical action by the narrator are an interesting relic of the ancient internet – they're from the IRC days at least – I'm shocked they've survived into new memes.

  2. bks said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 8:43 am

    Surrounding a word or phrase with asterisks meant emphasis in my experience of the ancient Internet (like boldface in printing). There would be no reason to use them for parenthetical remarks, as parentheses have always been available in ASCII.

  3. Allan from Iowa said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 10:40 am

    The asterisks don't mean parenthetical speech. Michael M said parenthetical ACTIONS. Think of stage directions in a script.

  4. bks said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 11:02 am

    Thanks Allan. That's a valid criticism of what I wrote, but I don't think I've ever seen asterisks used like that.

  5. wanda said,

    December 17, 2022 @ 4:13 am

    I feel like it is more standard to use the word "well" where Krugman used "um":
    "Since 1948 trade among market economies has been governed by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which sets certain ground rules for, well, tariffs and trade."

    I do not know why "well" is suited for this purpose.

  6. wanda said,

    December 17, 2022 @ 4:22 am

    In my previous comment, I almost wrote "well-suited" instead of "suited," but I deleted the "well-" because I didn't want to be repetitious.
    My mother taught me not to repeat words in writing. She is a native Mandarin speaker, so all the rules she taught me where explicitly taught to her at some point by her English teachers. I am a native speaker of American English. As I child, I edited all her writing in English for fluency and idioms, but she would edit all my writing in English for adherence to the formal rules she had been taught.

  7. Heddwen said,

    December 19, 2022 @ 5:41 am

    *raises hand* I use asterisks to convey actions all the time. I think I must have learned it from Reddit.

    It's definitely a thing. Here's someone complaining about it in 2015: and here's internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch discussing it on Twitter

    I actually thought it was pretty universal by now, but apparently I was wrong *shrugs*

  8. weirdnoise said,

    December 19, 2022 @ 9:22 pm

    Re: *action* : a lot of ASCII idioms like that grew up on USENET back in the day. There is also tilde as in ~shrug~ or ~sigh~ (asterisks work here too, but to me tilde is more suggestive of ambivalence or resignation). And, of course, smilies of various sorts. Unicode emoticons have greatly expanded possibilities, but with a decline in creativity.

    The Markdown markup language uses asterisks for emphasis, with *word*, **word**, (and also ***word***) translating into <em&rt;, <strong&rt;, and even nestings thereof, with some liberty in the rendering of edge cases. What was a trivial but convenient notation has turned into a half-megabyte spec: !

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