I found a bad habit in my conversations. When I stopped doing it myself and became aware of it in others, tensions relaxed and conflict de-escalated.

Everything I'm asserting is from my experience: Having grown up in American culture, I've seen this paradigm at work after ten years in Asia, calming-down conflict between people from both European and East Asian backgrounds.

While many "people skills" teaching addresses categories of overall communication modes, I'm isolating specific patterns within one of those modes so as to be more precise and useful.

I'm looking for the best, single context to inform or improve on this, but so far have found none.

Has anyone seen this at work themselves in a way that can provide insight (give examples)? Published references would be acceptable as well as personal observation.

I will describe what I mean to help illustrate it more clearly...

I call them "verbal cannonballs" or "barks". By themselves, they're harmless. But, in conflict we use more of them and it only worsens the conflict when we do.

They're those extra words or phrases that add no meaning at all; we might as well bark in place of them. Using them is a bad habit, with good intentions of course. We add them without knowing, to ram our point during verbal conflict—and they only invite offense and escalate conflict.

They are not sarcasm, snark, wit, passive-aggression, name-calling, pejorative labels, or dissenting judgments—because those have meaning; "barking" does not. They often, but not necessarily, take the form of emphatic speech—but, it's not just about emphatic speech.

They might be used in Satir's Blamer Mode, but "barking" and "verbal cannonballs" are just the meaningless words themselves, not the full "mode of communication" that lobs them at the other guy.

We might instinctively presume that using these words will de-escalate conflict, when in reality it has the reverse effect. We often presume that, since these add no lexical meaning—but they add emotional meaning—they are still helpful. It is true that emotional meaning can enhance an already peaceful conversation, but in conflict it's best to add fewer emotions, not more (See [footnote 1] and How Verbal Self-Defense Works). Barking is healthy among happy, playful dogs, but among angry, quarreling dogs, someone could get bitten. We might unconsciously think, "I bark when I'm happy, so I'll bark in this conflict to make everyone happy again." But, that won't work and we only think it will because we all tend to do this on instinct.

So, these should be avoided in conflict, though our instincts want to add them, even without knowing.

Here are examples, the "barks" being in italics:

(Note, all of these examples are consistent with Satir's Blamer Mode, I'm just isolating word patterns that could make them no-longer Blamer Mode if removed. Using these is very much contrary to Suzette Haden Elgin's advisable Computer Mode, but they aren't explicitly explained there either.)

Well, that's my opinion anyway.

... Saying, "that's my opinion," is a fact, but in this context "Well," isn't necessary and unconsciously, unintentionally rubs people the wrong way; same with "anyway". These add no meaning at all. They just make the wrong-way rub more wrong. Trimmed to, "That's my opinion," with a snide my is just as "barky".

Other examples:

Yo! That's out of line, bro.

... "Yo" is a great verbal way to "honk" at your friends to say hi, but in conflict it's anything but friendly. Same with a "bro" not treated like one. Neither have any meaning, only hard feelings.

Um, that could be incorrect.

... "Um" being deliberate and loud here, not that quiet, endearing, don't-do-on-TV, unintentional verbal pause, which really doesn't hurt anyone.

You came to the wrong office. That's what I think, anyhow.

... As opposed to neutrally stating, "But, that is merely what I think [and I won't press further]."

I could "bark" more, but I'm sure you get the gist.

[Footnote 1]: search & read the paragraph containing: "no emotions"; this is from "Item number 21271 from WRITERS LOG9311C" on the book "GENDERSPEAK: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by" Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on ELU english.stackexchange.com. If a mod or someone could migrate that would be great
    – Jesse
    Nov 24, 2018 at 5:19
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    ...another example, "You always" and "you never" might be deemed modifiers on ELU, but "accusations" here. I want the IC term. Please, friend.
    – Jesse
    Nov 24, 2018 at 5:27
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    @Jesse between us Jesse's, I really appreciate you not wanting stuff on the wrong site. I strongly considered asking on the Psychology site, but those questions seemed to be more about neuroscience. I'm really asking if some grad school student researched what OldPadawan calls "verbal ticks" for a master's thesis and noticed how avoiding them can improve "people skills" with quantifiable results—or if a therapist wrote an article about it. "Verbal cannonball" doesn't need a synonym, it needs patent research. Could you suggest Psychology instead? Please, Jess :-)
    – Jesse
    Nov 24, 2018 at 7:02
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    This question is being discussed in meta
    – kscherrer
    Nov 26, 2018 at 9:48
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    (continued) Third, the OP contains an assertion about the social effect of using words and phonemes as described that seems far from obviously true. If a person saying "well, that's what I think, anyhow" upsets someone, the issue (if any!) may be more with the offended party alone and less with objective effects of language in use.
    – Upper_Case
    Nov 26, 2018 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


Surely related is Marshall Rosenberg's concept of nonviolent communication that addresses non-compassionate patterns of communication as "jackal language" (or wolf language) in contrast to "giraffe language".

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication

Rosenberg as well as Satir seem to share their roots in the human potential movement in the '60s and '70s.

  • This is useful in following a breadcrumb trail, and very relevant. But, as "jackal and giraffe language" are defined on the wiki of NVC, and also here giraffeincblog.com/2011/02/25/jackal-and-giraffe-language and here arielfreespirit.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/…, are comparable more widely-applicable comm modes of "Blamer" and "Computer", with more flex and useful detail. None of the quote examples, however, isolate zero-meaning words in particular that are part of "jackal speech".
    – Jesse
    Nov 25, 2018 at 14:45
  • I want you to plz keep this answer here because it might end up being the best possible answer if there is no such literature.
    – Jesse
    Nov 25, 2018 at 14:45
  • I owe you this, after asking I pondered calling them "barks" instead of "verbal cannonballs" because, having no value, they really are just words used to bark at others like a dog would—or as you point out—better said, as a jackal would.
    – Jesse
    Nov 25, 2018 at 14:55
  • Since this is on hold, until otherwise, this is the "best" answer, the term best arrived to answer the question being: "Jackal Barking" is the jargon we should use.
    – Jesse
    Nov 26, 2018 at 1:17

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