Like in the German language, we have some English “fill-gaps” that are used to describe certain objects that we do not know the exact words for that. These “fill-gaps” help with the fluency of the language- mainly oral but to a certain degree written, however, they should be avoided as much as possible when dealing with business and academic English, for they are considered to be too informal and can cause confusion among (non-) native speakers, who may not know what you are referring to.
These “fill-gaps” consist of the following words:
Stuff Things So Like Well And Whatchamacallit
Thingamebob Of Which Get Very Really
Also included is the usage of contractions, which may be OK when writing e-mails, HOWEVER when writing business letters and academic papers, it is considered informal and unprofessional to use them.
EXERCISE I. Can you identify the mistakes and eliminate the “fill-ins?” Reconstruct the following sentences, correcting the mistakes and eliminating the “fill-ins” in the process.
- The thing is this: We are in the red for two months ago, so we have to cut back on things so we can make money.
- Like the company which is losing monies which is from the stock market crisis is ever going to get any money.
- The first thing I must say to you is the fact that we have too much stuff in stock in our very small storage room.
- We have to let go 400 men because there is much stuff going on which could get the company into more financial problems.
- Well, we have a source of work in Bulgaria, which is cheap. So, we’re going to move there.
EXERCISE II. Look at the following sentences below and determine whether they are informal (I) or formal (F). Some of the words are marked in bold print to help you. Note: informal sentences will most likely have these fillers or stop-gaps in there.
- Perry’s items to discuss in the interview with Coach Green includes why his football team is undefeated and what they are expecting in the playoffs.
- Betty and Ben are an item and have been getting on since last winter.
- Claudia is getting a restraining order against her boyfriend for cheating on her.
- “GET SCREWED!” hollered Dad when he learned that his favorite boxer lost despite his dominating the match.
- “I’m really angry with you for wikiing on your homework,” said Mrs. Stone. “You will rewrite the assignment again.”
- Judge Marge did it so that Barrett does community service after school for six months to help pay for the broken window of the post office.
- That woman who just served me was a former colleague of mine from school.
- Which of the proposals would you favor? Proposal A or Proposal B?
- Mike was like “Wow! That was very cool!”
- Stacy was grabbing her things and heading out west to Oregon.
EXERCISE III. Here’s A.J. Collins, a 30 year old who is very disgruntled because of a proposal to build a shopping mall in his neighborhood. This proposal would cut his neighborhood into two and create an adverse effect on his business, which was passed down to him by his father. He has never written a business letter before, and his English is only good enough small talk. Nevertheless, he has formulated a rough draft and has asked you to rewrite it, eliminating any “fill-ins” that you see and ensuring that it is within the context. Good luck! 🙂
RE: Proposed Shopping Center next to our village
Dear Mr. Burleson,
I am writing to you because you are proposing to replace my tavern and surrounding neighborhood with a shopping center and interstate highway, which is going to really destroy it and well, destroy the environment very much. I have a few things that I want to talk to you about, which are very important and so I decided to write you this letter.
Well, I know that the shopping center will get more shoppers and provide more things for them and it would get more money for the city. However, I have a problem with people wanting to destroy old places with stuff that no one needs. In the past, we were a community that was very old but had a lot of things that made us very proud. We had a really old water tower, a very big dance hall, which we had a lot of cool gothic stuff on it. We had an old but very cool bridge that we went fishing for like everything while we were children. Now all of these things are gone and replaced with stuff that we don’t need, like an interstate highway, a Whatchamacallit museum which has a souvenir store selling Indian stuff, and that big thing that holds football games there, which has a huge parking lot that is half full. I don’t understand why you want to destroy our tavern and neighborhood for new stuff, when you can get the people to come here and enjoy the meaning of life of an old but very neat village.
So, to end this letter, I hope you can straighten things out and rethink the idea of the shopping mall. After all, we have enough stuff here and the people in my neighbor have enough things and really don’t want to have a concrete building, which is ugly and consists of a Thingamebob of a name Tavener Mall, which is the last thing we need. We can get money through our business alone. We don’t need more stuff, when we don’t need it.
Thank you for your time and have a nice day.
EXERCISE IV: Apart from what is mentioned, what other fillers and stop-gaps can you find in the English language? Find five more to add to your vocabulary list, look for the definitions and present at least one example sentence per word. Be prepared to share your five with your neighbor(s). Good luck! 🙂
EXERCISE V: WRITING AND SPEECH. Choose two of the following pictures below. With one, write an essay about it, using your creative mind and telling a story about it. With the other, make a presentation following the same procedure. While in the first it must be done while avoiding the use of fillers and stop-gaps, in the second, you should construct two different speeches- one with and one without fillers and stop-gaps. Can you tell the difference here? If not, have your neighbor(s) listen to you.
Author’s Note: This worksheet is in connection with the questionnaire that was conducted a month ago, which you can click here to see the results. Basically, the results reveal that words mentioned here in this worksheet are more likely to be considered fillers or stop-gaps because of their excessive usage. The lone exceptions are that, which and item. However, one linguist found 297 of these expressions one shouldavoid using. A link to his guide can be found here. Despite the findings, there are many more words and expressions out there that are becoming informal because of their use in the context. These are just a handful that are use the most in English. The best advice is to pay attention to the words are being used and ask yourselves the following questions:
- Are they used appropriately if looking at it from the formal standpoint?
- Are there alternative words and expressions to replace them?
As a rule, if they are replaceable and used in informal settings, such as a typical conversation or in slang, then the expressions are considered informal and are thus fillers or stop-gaps. If not, then it is OK to use in formal settings, such as in academia or in business or technical settings. 🙂