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Noises We Sing, Hum, or Mutter While Waiting

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Erica in San Antonio, Texas, asks whether there’s a term for the soft noises that people make with their mouths while waiting, such as humming or whooshing, to pass the time. Another example might be that animated Typewriter Guy on Sesame Street who rolls into the frame singing to himself: NOO noo noo noo noo noo noom. Or when you’re waiting for someone to figure out a question and you reflexively hum the tune from the final round of the TV game show Jeopardy! or Countdown. If the wordless vocalization is meant to communicate something to someone — say, assuring someone waiting on the other end of a phone line that you’re still there — it’s known as phatic communication, which refers to the things we do and say that don’t necessarily convey a literal meaning, but instead serve as a kind of social lubrication. This is part of a complete episode.

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