Make Room For The Stuttering

Do We Obsess Too Much?

Posted on: April 26, 2012

Yep, I obsess sometimes. I know I do. When I speak publicly and communicate very well, I almost never focus on how well I did if I also stuttered. Like many of us, I tend to focus on the one tiny little thing that I didn’t like instead of all the good things that did happen.

Take last night, for example. I was at a Toastmasters meeting and volunteered to facilitate the Table Topics section of the meeting. This is the part of Toastmasters meetings where we practice impromptu speaking.

I thought of some questions during break and proceeded to skillfully carry out this part of the meeting. I also had a couple of moments where I had an uncomfortable block. Where nothing came out for about 20 seconds and I also squeezed one eye shut at the moment of the block.

As I drove home from the meeting, that’s what I thought about. Not how great I did at filling the role at the last-minute, but what did the two visitors think of me when they saw that weird blocking behavior? I obsessed about whether I should have said anything to acknowledge that I had stuttered.

As people who stutter, we also seem to obsess a lot over the conversational use of the word stuttering when it does not apply to what we know as a speech disorder.

For example, recently on the popular TV show “American Idol,” a 16 year-old contestant sang a song called Stuttering. She has a beautiful voice and sang the hell out of the song.

The next day, the Facebook forums were full of comments from people who stutter who felt offended by the song. Many stated they didn’t like the song because it implied the wrong reasons why people stutter.

Often in the news, especially regarding sports, we will hear or read accounts of a team or player getting off to a “stuttering start.” I have heard people who stutter comment that they are offended by these casual uses of the term stuttering, as it implies negativity about stuttering.

I understand (to a degree) why I sometimes obsess about my own speech and focus more on when I have had uncomfortable stuttering moments and blocks. I always wish it hadn’t happened at that particular time.

But I don’t always understand the reactions the stuttering community has when the non-stuttering public uses “our” word for our speech in another context.

What do  you think?

8 Responses to "Do We Obsess Too Much?"

I have to admit, I’m really offended to hear it in the tech industry so much. When voice over IP has intermittant dysfluency, many call it a stutter. I use the term jitter. I hear stutter thrown around in arguements (Did I stutter? Now go clean your room!), about cars (So the pedal kind of stutters when you apply the breaks?), and in reference to those being questioned by law enforcement who are lying. It’s rude and offensive.

FWIW, I don’t stutter.

Thanks for reading and commenting, especially as a non-stutterer. I wish people would understand that it can be very frustrating, and often offensive, for those of us who really stutter to hear the term used in casual conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with a speech impediment.
It sort of invalidates our struggle experiences, which as a woman who stutters, is really what I want – for people to see that what most of the world takes for granted is often a huge struggle for those of use who stutter.
Thanks again for your insight and for sharing you don’t stutter!

You made an excellent point in this post. I believe we all obsess about our speech to varying degrees. We start speaking with the intention of making a good impression and when we face a bad block our original plan of delivering a flawless speech crumbles, something we had not anticipated. Thinking back to that particular moment, “obsessing”, comes as a consequence. What did my audience think about my stutter? Did it make my speech sound less worthy? When facing a block we feel under the spotlight, and probably for a brief moment we are. But then we feel judged for the way we speak well after that instant. I personally believe that you’ll always find someone who will be judgmental, but also that the wide majority of listeners will value us for our content and not our delivery. How can we desensitize ourselves so that we won’t keep “obsessing” about the “judgemental few”? This question could serve as a cue for further discussion. As for the use of the word “stuttering” in other contexts, I’d make a distinction. In Jessica Sanchez’ song, stuttering is used to convey positive feelings. On the other hand, its use in the media often carries a negative connotation.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Yes, I think we could have much further and deeper conversation about this topic.
I tend to obsess about what I think I am being negatively judged for, when in fact, that probably isn’t even true.
I worry about what the audience thinks of my stutter, when in fact, they might not have even hear it, or maybe weren’t even paying attention.
The whole issue of desensitization is so important for stutterers – we spend so much time worrying about things that sometimes we miss the joyfulness of a moment. I know that’s what I missed out on a lot for all the years I worked so hard to try and hide my stutter, which I was very unsuccessful at.
It would be interesting to talk with you sometime!

I think that throwing around the word, stuttering, so nonchalantly works against people who stutter. People are more likely to laugh at you when you actually stutter because people so often make a joke when they have typical dysfluencies (e.g., whoops I just stuttered LOL)… Then when someone who stutters goes up to the register at Walmart to pay for their products they repeat a syllable and get laughed at….obviously this is a personal experience I have had LOL. I believe that there just are not enough people who stutter for us to be taken seriously. People just don’t automatically think oh, maybe she stutters, unless you have a really good block or really good secondaries to go with it (like they do in the movies). Anyways, I wish people would stop throwing the word around like its so funny all the time. Stuttering is a serious problem for the 1% of the population that deals with it everyday. I believe that the only people who should be making jokes about stuttering are people who stutter.

Hi, guys, I know I may be in disaggreement with you, but I do not see anything offensive in using the word stutter in other contexts. It is the nature of language – we transfer words meaning to make the language more colorful. Engine coughed, love fever, fishing for compliments, schysophrenic idea. Most people who use “stutter” have no idea they offend people who stutter, most don’t even think about people who stutter. When my friend says something “Oh, I felt i stuttered through my speech” she sometimes glances at me as if she suddenly became aware that i may be offended, but I am not going to become a word censor. I like language to be free and inimpeded by judgement. Americans have too many taboo as it is, no need to add one more. Those are just words. It is our job to educate people about stuttering, to let them know how it feels and what we are feeling. But if someone uses this word, without thinking about me or other people who stutter, without even being aware that someone may take offense, then why shoudl I make it my problem? It is just a word. One among so many. We cannot expect that people will be careful with this one word.

Hi Pam,

First, I would like to commend you for the broad perspectives you share with us podcast listeners by inviting guests from all walks of life who eloquently focus on content rather than form. I wish I had the time to comment on each of your blogposts and podcasts, but life is so busy! You latest blogpost (“Do we obsess too much”) and the comment thread caught my attention, particularly the “Suttering” song that you linked to. This song title has special resonance to me, as it incidentally made me discover the online stuttering community and podcasts (yours, StutterTalk, Stuttering Is Cool, etc.). I took Hip-Hop classes for 3 years at a community dance school, and our dance instructor/choreographer taught us some warm-up drills on a song called “Stuttering” by Fefe Dobson ( – not the same song as the American Idol contestant – I prefer the Fefe Dobson version. Admittedly, both songs refer to stuttering as something people do when they are nervous, which we all know is not as simple. I like the song, so I asked the instructor about the song, so she tells me. I had a little moment of surprise when she told me the title (!). I downloaded the song from iTunes, but as I did the search, iTunes also found albums, artist’s names, movies, TV shows, and…podcasts which have the word “stuttering” somewhere. When I listened to these podcasts, hearing people stutter openly, with confidence, talking about acceptance, it opened whole new perspectives to me! To add to the coincidence, the instructor was a university student training to become a speech therapist! Likewise for the director of the dance school, who was a good friend of our instructor and a very friendly person by the way. Did I ever talk abouth the fact that I am a person who stutters to them? Hell no! Not there yet!
I am sure you can understand why I am not offended by these songs. Likewise for references to stuttering in conversations, in commonplace expressions, etc. Sometimes we are funny! We inspire songwriters! We just need to tell people, these are pop songs, not real life. People have no idea about the stuttering iceberg. It is our (correct me: my) responsibility to educate people about stuttering.
I’d have a lot to say about each comment, but my comment is already too long! I found Anna Margarita’s comment quite convincing, though!

Looking (rather, listening 🙂 ) forward to your next podcast!

JF, alias Sansbonsang

Hey JF,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Really great feedback. I really appreciate you letting me know you like the perspective I try to offer. And you are so right about content vs form. I am not very tech savvy, so my offerings are pretty amateur, but I think that’s what fosters the authenticity of these conversations.
I love that you found out about the stuttering resources just by chance, by doing a search on the song.
I will be sure to listen to the Dobson version.

Sometimes I wonder if people are really listening and reading when there are spurts with little comments. And then someone like yourself writes and reminds me that even if only one person gets something from these conversations with real people, then the effort is well worth it.
And you are right – it is our responsibility to educate others about all the stuff that lies beneath the surface of our stuttering, ice cubes and iceberg.

It is a journey, different for each of us, to reach the point of acceptance that we can tell others that we stutter and be OK with it. You will know when, and if, you are ready.

Thanks again for the great feedback. I hope you get a chance to check in again sometime.


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