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.
Beer or wine. By this we mean the cheapest stuff available in your locale; think PBR or Bud or Miller High Life, or for the wine-drinkers, two-buck-Chuck/jug/box "vino." If you insist, you may substitute your favorite flavor varietal of wine cooler/spritzer/Mike's Hard Lemonade/Zima.
Here's what's going to happen: Obama is going to say "uh,"*** his patented "intellectual stammer." Mitt Romney is going to smack his lips. We've seen both of these things before; they've been covered in the media; there are videos to prove it. When either of these things happen, drink—reasonable sized sips, nothing crazy, you gotta last a couple of hours, here. Drink again for every time Romney says "uh," and delete a drink for each time Barack Obama smacks his lips.
Your preferred well drink. You may use mixers or rocks, but for this level of the game you must drink nothing black or blue or red label, nothing that has the word "artisanal" or "handcrafted" or "locally hewn" on its label, and absolutely nothing that is "made with love."
Here we're watching for repeats. So, when Obama says, "the—the," or Romney says "individuals ... individuals"—or whatever else it is they may repeat in that crutch-word way of creating a pause and giving oneself more time to think about what's coming next, drink. And note the repeated word, please, please.
Beer or wine. By this we mean the good stuff you get as a gift and keep for yourself, and, if you prefer it, things with bubbles.
For slightly higher stakes level, these crutch words are up for grabs. This is your freestyle round! If anyone (including a commenter) says any of these crutch words: actually, literally, figuratively, exponentially, as it were, per se, apparently, drink. Drink twice if anyone says honestly or let's be honest, let me be frank, or frankly or the truth of the matter is—any such phrase that makes you doubt whether what the candidate is saying is, in fact, true.
The fancy liquor. Drink it neat or with specially-made non-melting cubes; by this we mean high-end, only the best, no skimping on quality. This is your drink for bringing it home. Drink for bottom-line, basically, at the end of the day, for all intents and purposes, and ultimately. Drink twice for with all due respect, and take half a sip for the thing is. Finish whatever it is you've got with irregardless.
Shots. No need for discussion of quality here; in this case we're about intensity and S.O.D. (Speed of Drunkenness). Mostly because these words are pretty unlikely. Drink once for in a weird way; seriously? (only as an up-talked interrogative); really?, like (in the most teen-girl of uses), and as if. Drink twice if anyone says "Whatever!" and if that candidate also makes the W-sign with their fingers, chug.
100 proof something-something. This will never happen so don't worry. If either Barack or Mitt shout, "America, Schmamerica!"; "Build it? I just met it!"; or "I give up, you win, you'll always win, why do I even bother?"—none of these being crutch words, per se, but just patently ridiculous, drink everything in sight, and consider leaving the country because November just got a lot less interesting. Or ... maybe not?
*If you want to simplify this game, drink whatever beverage you have on hand when anyone says anything above, or make your own game by picking and choosing which words you want to drink for from our lists here and here. Email us your results!
**Do not operate machinery or engage in reckless social media behaviors or drive a motor vehicle during or for at least several hours and a good night's sleep after playing this game.
***High-risk players may include all varietals: uh, um, er, ergh, erm. Anything that's a nonsensical word crutch sound, essentially.
Inset images via AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall; AP/Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.