Friday, September 5, 2008

Unintentional hedging (2)

The habit of “unintentional hedging” can undermine clear writing (and clear speaking). In an earlier post, I described how easy it is to slip into the habit. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin slipped into it Wednesday, during a speech apparently intended to argue that she had enough experience to be Vice President of the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

“Where Democrats derided her background as a small-town mayor, she replied that such experience gave her a feel for real Americans. ‘Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown,’ she said.

“ ‘And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a “community organizer,” except that you have actual responsibilities.’ That was not only a retort to the Obama campaign, but a dig at Sen. Obama’s own experience as a community organizer in Chicago.” (Boldface added.)

As a long-time executive speechwriter, I admire the cleverness of that sentence. But she blunted it by including not one, not two, but three hedges: “I guess,” “sort of,” and “like.” Just listen to the same sentence without the hedges:

A small-town mayor is a community organizer with actual responsibilities.

The Takeaway: Even politicians, who get more practice than most of us do at writing and speaking, occasionally slip into unintentional hedging. Be on guard against doing it unconsciously. If you intend to hedge, hedge. Otherwise, don’t hedge. State simply and directly what you did, what you will do, what you believe, or what you recommend. If you say what you mean, you will earn more respect.

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