All They Want is Stuff: The Use of Stop-Gaps in English Part I

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Willow Creek Bridge in Mason City in the 1950s: New Bridge on the Left, Antique 1800s Bridge on the Right. Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Transportation

This article is co-produced with sister column, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in connection with a project being constructed.

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Stop-gaps. Each language has its set of stop-gap words that people use, either as a substitute for a word they were looking for (but couldn’t find it), or as a bridge in the conversation with the purpose of avoiding a pause and revealing their insecurities in communicating with other people. Many of us are guilty of using these stop-gaps, both in our native tongue as well as when learning a foreign language. Here are some examples of how they are used in English:

  1. In connection with the picture above, I had my final conversation with my grandmother back in January 2007 about her community’s strive to destroying historic buildings and bridges, including a bridge near her home and a high school that used to be a haven for theatricals. Her reaction to the city’s plan to tear down the high school: “All they want is stuff!”  Difficult to replace stuff with new or modern things, but she was opposed to modernization, fighting all the way up to her death three months later.  Highly spirited woman I admired. 🙂 ❤
  2. A former college classmate goes off on a tangent over a teenager’s excessive use of “like.” Example: “I was like great. We could like meet at like 7:30 at like the theatre. Would you like that?”  Overhearing this in a restaurant, she paints a vivid reaction on facebook.  Geil! 🙂
  3. A college professor stresses the importance of not using thing in a paper and was appalled to see at least 10 of these words in a 25-page paper in English. That student bawled his eyes out while receiving a failing grade, using that as one of the main reasons justifying the need to rewrite it.  The professor was Czech and his student was from Saxony, who had spent time in Iowa as a high school exchange student, by the way. 😉

But the underlying question is which of these stop-gap words are really informal and used for personal communication, and which ones are formal and can be used  for formal purposes as well as for research papers? In connection with a project being conducted at a university in Jena, a question for the forum is being introduced for you to think about. All you need is two minutes of your time to answer the following questions:

frage für das forum

1. Which of these words do you use the most in terms of verbal communication?

 

2. Which of these words do you use the most in terms of written communication?

3. Which of these words do you think are considered stop-gaps and used for informal communication?

 

4. Which of these words do you think are NOT stop-gaps because of their use in formal communication?

 

5. Why do you use stop-gap words in English?

 

For the first two questions, only one word applies; the next two has a limit of five possibilities and the last question has more than one answer possible. Each one has an option where you can add other words and items that are not on the list.  You have until 16 May, 2016 to vote. The results and some exercises will come in June. In case of any questions, please feel free to contact Jason Smith at the Files, using the contact details in the website under About.

The purpose of the questionnaire is to find out how often these stop-gap words are being used and why they are used. Already there have been discussions about this subject and even the author has put together a worksheet on this subject for use in college (that will be presented in the June article). It will help linguists and English teachers find ways to modify the use of stop-gaps and (especially for the latter) encourage students of English to use other alternatives and widen their vocabulary. Interesting is to compare the use of stop-gap words in English with that of other languages, including German- one of the words has been used here in this article.

Can you figure this one out and find the English equivalent? 🙂

 

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