As we're all breathlessly gearing up for the first debate between Mittens Romney and -bo Obama, we—O.K., I—have been eagerly considering the crutch words that these two are likely to use tonight. Remember crutch words, or those verbal pauses we use in speech and sometimes writing to emphasize, help us think about what to say next, and add drama or sense of flow to our monologues? As William Grimes wrote in the New York Times in 2007, reviewing Michael Erard's book, Um..., "up to 8 percent of the average person’s word output consists of meaningless fillers and placeholders like um, uh and er." Such words, and the slightly more sensical versions that get peppered into speech so much they become cliche-crutches, are even more likely in a live debate scenario in which a candidate must think on his feet and be forced to make spur-of-the-moment linguistic decisions.
In the heat of the moment, will Barack return to the uh-dropping of years hence, or will he have moved to, say, Biden's literally territory, or perhaps to something else entirely—as it were? Per se? The thing is? Will Romney up his lip-smacking ante, or will he offer up some new, heretofore unheard of catchphrase, or will he just go big on individualism and his standard corporate-speak? Beyond who will be declared winner or loser, what will happen? If you're not as inherently excited about the prospect of tonight's debate as we are, we've put it into the context of a semantical drinking game,* pairing drinks featuring low-to-high alcoholic content with the high-to-low likelihood of crutch words, crutch sounds, and some regular words thrown in for good measure. Play along at home;** debates start at 9 p.m. EDT.