Posted by ESC on January 18, 2003
In Reply to: Re: Silence --Gap filling posted by James Briggs on January 18, 2003
: : : : What's the phrase used when someone tangents off to fill temporary unavoidable pauses during a speech to fill an awkward silence? I was at a conference and during the speaker's lecture, he had to stop while an overhead projector needed adjusting he went off into idle non-associated chit chat and someone applauded his ability to ... (Phrase)
: : improvise
: : : ad lib
: : wing it; winging it
: : back and fill
: : vamp
: Hem (Hum) and Haw. As an expression for hesitancy, 'to Hem and Haw' isn't recorded until 1786. But it is found centuries earlier in similar expressions such as to hem and hawk, hem and ha, and hum and ha, which Shakespeare used. These are all sounds made in clearing the throat when we are about to speak. When a speaker constantly makes them without speaking he is usually hesitating out of uncertainty, which suggested the phrase. Said the first writer to record the idea in 1469: "He wold have gotyn it aweye by humys and by hays but I would not so be answered. " The modern version is to "Um & Ah".
My boss, Mr. Saaid, used to talk about "filling the air with idle chatter." I was also thinking of the word "patter." My World Book Dictionary has: "patter -- rapid and easy talk." Since people applauded he must have been good at it.