Sure. Sure. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Oct 232006
Authors: Geoff Johnson

Recently, I’ve been saying “sure” (pronounced like a very short “sher”) and “mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm” (said rapidly) a lot. My friend Kate got me started. When Kate and I speak in sures and mm-hmms, it goes something like this:

Kate says, “Just got off work.”

I say, “Sure. Sure,” nodding my head slowly and methodically. “Job’s going well?”

She says, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm,” also nodding in no hurry and with purpose.

I say, “Good. Sure. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.”

But not everyone loves “sure” and “mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm” as much as Kate and I do. You can ask any of my exasperated friends. They’ll tell you that I say “sure” and “mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm” way, way too much. Sometimes, they want to punch me in the face. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Sure, sure.

For whatever reason, they think I’m being insincere. For instance:

Person A says, “I’ve been really depressed lately.”

As he or she says it, I say “Sure. Sure,” with the slow nod.

Person A continues, “Stop that. But yeah, like I was saying, my (significant other) just doesn’t understand me at all, you know?”

I say, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.”

Person A says, “You’re a real jerk, you know that?”

I say, “Ah. sure. Sure. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.”

So I’ve been thinking about quitting. Sure. It’s because of the hurt feelings.

Reminds me that I’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of my last cigarette. I remember it vividly, that cigarette. It was a Camel Turkish Silver somewhere between 9:35 and 9:40 a.m. on the cloudy morning of October 18th, 2005, in front of the Clark Building.

Smoking was a big part of my life – mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm – if you can’t tell by the fact that I know not only the date but also the time of day of this last cigarette.

So I think to myself, if I kicked the nicotine, how come I can’t kick this silliness with “sure” and “mm-hmm, mm-hmm”?

But quitting Camels was harder than not laughing at a friend taking a good fall on some ice (come on – you know that’s hard).

I really only quit because the near-constant tobacco smoke made me come down with bronchitis. It hurt to breathe Colorado’s cool, clean air, let alone toxic cancer sticks. I decided I needed to quit so bronchitis wouldn’t happen anymore.

And just like the annoying utterances, “sure” and “mm-hmm”, people had been telling me I needed to quit smoking for a long time before I finally did.

I’d light a cigarette, and a non-smoking friend would say, “Are you smoking?! You know that’s bad for you?!”

I’d say, “Yes,” blowing out smoke.

She’d say, “So stop!”

I’d take a drag and say, “Not just yet.”

She’d say, “Come on!”

Tapping the end, I’d say, “I’ll quit. I will.”

Good-intentioned they may have been, these gentle nudgings from my friends were not and could not have been what made me quit in the end. I love them for caring about my health, but it had to be for me – something I wanted, selfish as that may sound – and the bronchitis made it about me.

So this leads me to an important question: Is there an illness that is (1) caused by saying “sure” and “mm-hmm, mm-hmm” and (2) makes it painful to utter said words?

Until I stumble upon such a disease, I will most likely be saying “sure” and “mm-hmm” a whole lot, and my interactions will go something like this:

Person B says, “Have you tried one of these burritos?”

I say, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Sure. Sure.”

Person B says, “See?! I can never tell if you’re serious!”

I say, “Ah. Sure. Sure. Mm-hmm. It happens.”

Person B bops me on the nose and says, “Ugh!”

Geoff Johnson is a senior English major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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