Do I sound like a teacher? Well, that’s like, I mean to say, that’s who I am, you know! Are you with me? To be honest, words are beautiful! You know what I mean? As a matter of fact, many expressions serve very pragmatic functions which add color and excitement to what might very well be dull, dry, and dead. You with me?
So in this “defense of a much-maligned, pragmatic, parenthetical expression” I’m arguing for the right to say “you know.”
My defending “you know” reminds me of the mother who watched her son in a boot camp march. She said, “Oh, look, everybody is out of step except Johnny!” I’m not saying everyone is wrong except me, but, on the other hand, I don’t plan to eliminate all my “you knows.” Let me tell you why. “You know” is a parenthetical expression just like these phrases: as a matter of fact, to be honest, and you understand.
1. When I want to confirm to my audience that I am aware I am telling them something they already know. For instance: It is so hot in August, you know, I am planning to set aside extra funds to vacation at Yellowstone Park during that month.
2. When you want to soften criticism. For instance: You know, you really shouldn’t text while driving.
3. When you want your audience to identify with your imagery. For instance: When the man drove through my yard, you know, he dug ruts that will last all season.
4. When clarifying. For instance: I’m going to buy a new car; you know, one of those elite styles that make people think I can afford it.
5. When used like a question. For instance: Every grandmother has the most beautiful grandchildren in the world, you know?
Um, I agree, filler words can be very distracting if they are just thrown in to cover a pause when choosing a particular word or thought. I once counted 37 “you knows” in a thirty minute presentation. That’s excessive and irritating. If you would not write a filler word in an essay, it probably should not be used in a spoken presentation either. But if you, like, really, um, mean “you know” then use “you know.”