Have you noticed the proliferation of the word ‘obviously’ when people speak, these days? Have you also noticed, as I have, that the word ‘actually’ seems to have ebbed away just as quickly as ‘obviously’ came in?

Yes, these days people use obviously where they used actually (or actual) where they used to use ‘erm’.

In my view this is a reflection of the increased pace of our world, in particular our communication capacity (email, text, phones) and the psychological effect of ‘conditioning’. Let me explain.

1. Conditioning occurs when, like Pavlov’s Dogs, we learn to react in a certain way to a consistent stimulus. When A happens, we automatically do B. This serves us, for example, when we see a door handle. we assume, from conditioned experience, that it will push downwards to open the door. Watch the bemused look when someone fits a handle to move upwards. Conditioning also applies when we hear things, as we adopt the language of those around us most often – don’t knock it, that’s how you learned to talk as a child. So it is a true principle.

2. Communication has changed, in the sense now that it is more immediate than it ever was. We speak, action is expected. If we text, we expect an immediate response, as we do with email (occasionally). I see people conduct conversations by text – which takes 10 minutes to have a chat which, if conducted on the PHONE, would have taken seconds. Odd.

3. The immediacy of communication, or our perception of that immediacy, means when we DO talk to people we expect immediate understanding. At the same time, we do not want to be interrupted so we speak quickly and try not to create gaps which, given the chance, the person we are speaking to will fill with what we call ‘interruptions’. We don’t want that, so we fill the inadvertent gap. These inadvertent gaps are caused because we are talking faster than we are thinking – for example, Freudian slips and Spoonerisms are caused by doing that – and because we do that we have to fill the gap with something to prevent the other person interrupting. That used to be the word ‘erm’, but that sounds like we aren’t clever. Thus we started using the word ‘actual’ and its derivatives because it sounds intelligent. But after using it three times in one sentence it doesn’t sound clever any more.

Some people stopped using ‘actual (etc.) but still needed to sound clever, so ‘obviously’ was its replacement. I have heard that used 8 times in one telephone call.

If it’s obvious, you don’t need to use the word or explain why it’s obvious. Duh!

Anyway, to address the title – we are all using it simply because instead of thinking for ourselves we are letting other peoples’ habits, idiosyncrasies and (dare I say it) lack of verbal skills or intellect to dictate how WE talk, which is in turn a reflection that we comply with other things like fashion, popularity, celebrity and other societal ‘norms’ because we allow it, consciously or unconsciously. We dress like heroes, we talk like them, we behave like them because it’s ‘cool’ ( A 1920s term, which shows just how trendy ‘cool’ actually isn’t.)

Are you being lived, or are you willing enough to be different and a true individual?