Crutch Words

Crutch words are words, syllables ("um"), or phrases ("you know") of interjection designating hesitation and are characteristically used instead of pauses to allow thinking time for the speaker. They also may be used to elicit supportive feedback or simple response from the listener.

You might consider spelling common crutch words as follows: uh, uh‐huh, um‐hm, unh‐uh. Crutch words that sound different from these example spellings may be spelled differently, but consistency must be maintained throughout a transcription. 

Tip: Consider printing out this page for reference. Then circle or mark the spellings that a speaker seems to use, as an aid to spelling the speaker’s usual crutch word consistently through the transcript.

Sometimes a person will repeatedly enunciate words ending with a hard consonant with an added “uh,” as in these examples:

  • and‐uh, at‐uh, did‐uh, that‐uh, in‐uh, to‐uh, of‐uh, they‐ uh.

In these instances, do not type "uh."

When crutch words are used by the narrator as a stalling device or a significant pause, type them out.

  • Oh I think so. Um. Now you surprised me with this question, I need to remind myself of the review.

Use crutch words when they contribute to the cadence and tone of speech.

  • This was the biggest blunder of my life and led to, uh I would say, an emotional breakdown, a mental breakdown.
  • When his father died, um, at the funeral a whole crowd of us turned up.
  • One of those talks was to take, um, to take place when we were having a barbecue in the back garden.
  • But he gave it his best shot as far — as I understand it, I’m not party to all these past, um, past events.

Consider omitting crutch words and phrases that, while verbatim, do not contribute additional understanding to the text.

  • Uh, we were faithful church members.
  • The other person that you’ve mentioned who mediated this, uh, Trinitarian theology to you, is Bob Walker.
  • Students come and go, um, I think I’m possibly the only original left, um, Eckart comes of course and one other lady has come for years and years, so we’re the sort of core die-hards and our students and young people come and go and find a welcome.
  • He gives us a twenty minute sermon, which is, um, which has shaped my mind, changed my life, and helped me far to understand Torrance from a perspective of faith, not an academic perspective.
  • "you know"; "like"; etc.

Consider omitting unintentional crutch words, particularly at the beginning of paragraphs, unless they indicate a purposeful pause.

  • #00:07:34-1# Jennifer Floether: Uh, I can only think that this was all answered prayer. 

Protip: Because it can be difficult to determine which crutch words should be included in the first stage of transcription, consider typing words verbatim as you hear them and then edit them in the review phase.

Participants may be surprised at how often they use crutch words in speech and may prefer to have fewer in their final transcript. In addition, too many crutch words can create burdensome reading. Consider the intended audience and the participant when deciding which crutch words to include or exclude.

One of the major considerations is whether the crutch word/phrase was intentional or reflects a purposeful pause. For example, who would ever agree to participate in an oral history if we make the transcript jarring or unreadable or make the person sound unfamiliar to themselves? We want to balance courtesy to the participant and to the reader while also retaining the casual character of an oral history.