Ever since reading Sunday’s New York Times opinion “The ‘Kind of, Sort of’ Era,” I’ve pondered, reflected upon and attempted to gather my thoughts around what Mr. Kurutz shares. According to Mr. Kurutz, “Our language reflects the uncertainties of modern life.”
Mr. Kurutz explains that certain words/phrases are used to “lesson a statement’s force or meaning.” He refers to words such as “kind of” and “sort of” as “hedge” words. An example he shares is contained in a statement made by Peter Walsh, a University of Cambridge ecologist, in talking about Ebola:
“What’s nasty about it is it sort of melts your blood vessels.”
Wow…really!? Is it truly possible to “sort of” – not fully or totally, that is – “melt one’s blood vessels”?
Being extremely over sensitive (or a stickler) about words and phrases – their selection, usage, and relevance – certain non-aligning, non-relevant and/or nonsensical words and phrases cause my funny bone to spasm each time I hear one randomly tossed (or so it appears) into utterances or sentence mixtures. Often, a similar electrical type shock permeates my body as I hear certain abstract words sprinkled repeatedly (often 10-15 times) or laced throughout a monologue or conversation as one orally recounts – even for only seconds – their daily experience or encounter. Apparently, linguists refer to my tendency to gravitate and focus on these specific words as “frequency illusion”…
…a phenomenon in which people who just learn or notice something start seeing it everywhere. For instance, a person who just saw a movie about sharks might start seeing the word “shark” everywhere. This is not necessarily because the person really has come across more instances of the word “shark”, but because usually they simply passed the word over and quickly forgot it, while later, having seen the movie, the word started sticking in their memory.
Interesting…I’ve actually counted…so my encounter/experience doesn’t appear to be any type of “illusion” at all to me!
As I read and attempt to absorb Mr. Kurutz’ perspective and assessment – which, by the way, I mostly…well kind of agree with – I also wonder if it’s possible – or maybe even a bit more valid – that something else – something much deeper, more profound or even more fundamental – a sort of bigger picture view – might be occurring to encourage or entice each of us to select and use certain words – and even use them repeatedly – to construct and convey our messages.
For example, a few words that tend to pop out, grab my attention, and cause unusual consternation as I listen to interactions and stories being conveyed by others throughout my day include:
- in a fundamental or elementary manner; essentially: strident and basically unpleasant
- (sentence modifier) in essence; in summary; put simply: basically we had underestimated mother nature
In the example included with the second definition, it would make sense to me that one either underestimates or they estimate accurately/correctly – which, in simple terms, means they didn’t underestimate. Basic, right…? So, why insert the term “basically”? Does it serve any real value?
Seriously…what are you trying to communicate here?
As one who cringes when I hear this word inserted – especially repeatedly – in conversations, dialogues or monologues that convey a daily event or story, I am able to appreciate a comment by Blitz-Matt (February 02, 2004) found at the Urban Dictionary:
When you suspect someone of being an idiot, count how many times they say ‘basically’ when talking.
So, basically, at the end of the day, when all’s said and done, basically, my vocabluary is really really basic.
For me, hearing the word “goes” in a sentence where the word speaks, says, states, suggests (nearly 550 other options are available) would be more effective causes me to drift – and wonder where and when the person might embark upon their departure. That word “goes” immediately ignites something inside me which causes the anticipation of an individual’s departure – which oddly never actually occurs. With the thought that someone will soon be departing securely planted in my head, I’m unable to link what appear to be two different and random thoughts – confusing and ineffective…distracting at best. Below are a few examples:
“So, he goes, I must do something about this immediately.”
If he truly planned to “do something” immediately, wouldn’t he plan to leave immediately to get that something done…so, “he goes,” (departs), right?
“I tell him I disagree, and he goes, ‘I can easily provide you with more data.
Again, if he can “easily provide more data,” wouldn’t he prepare to leave to get that data…so, “he goes,” (exits), right?
According to Bob Greene, author of a Chicago Tribune article (August 1993), the use of terms such as “goes” and “like” sound “dissonant and idiotic” to the “average ear.” Hmm…Mr. Green’s comment causes my use of the term “distracting” to describe my encounter with the altered use of these words to seem a bit kinder, indeed!!
So, given all of this…what do you think…
- Is the use of these non-specific, indirect words (or what appear to be random misaligned words) “sloppy” as Bob Greene suggests?
Could their continued use in 2014 be a result of the “abbreviate” world in which we now function (Twitter, etc.) rather than simply “uncertainties of modern life” as proposed by Mr. Kurutz?
- Or, as Professor Hale then of Harvard’s Linguistic Department shares, do you believe that a “certain subgroup of Americans” use these terms “as a sort of badge-an identifying badge.” to show they are “part of a certain age group”?
If so, it’s interesting to consider that:
- In 1993 that age group was thought to be 25 and younger. That would mean those folks are now in their 40’s…and still using these terms.
- This particular Professor, at the time, noted that selecting and using these particular words “is not a conscious decision on their part.” For me, that’s a bit of an alarming comment to ponder. As conscious, brain-driven humans, one would think that the choice of words used for our interactions, our communications and the telling of events and stories would be a conscious decision – carefully chosen – and within our power to select, manage, and control – right?
Crafted, researched and written by: LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock