Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unintentional hedging (3)

In two previous posts (1), (2), I described how easy it is to slip into the habit of “unintentional hedging” (the unintentional use of kind of, sort of, about and other hedges). Here’s another example.


On July 14, The New York Times ran an article, “Daffy’s, Discounter of Clothes, Promotes a Rental Bargain,” which quoted Jan Jacobs, an adman:

“ ‘One thing we all have in common in New York is that we all pay too much to live here,’ Mr. Jacobs, whose agency is based in the West Village, said. ‘Real estate is sort of the No. 1 dinnertime conversation in New York …’ ” (Boldface added.)

Mr. Jacobs used the distinct phrase “No. 1,” but hedged it with “sort of.”

The reader is left to wonder what he meant. Did he mean “one of the more common dinnertime conversations” (i.e., if it’s not No. 1, it’s close to No. 1) or did he mean “I think it’s the No. 1 dinnertime conversation, but I’m not sure because I haven’t researched it” (i.e., it could be No. 1 or something close to No. 1, or something far below No. 1), or something else?

In short, we do not know what he meant. We don’t even know whether he intended to hedge.

The Takeaway: Stay alert and try to avoid unintentional hedging. If you intend to hedge, hedge: “I’ll be finished in about ten days.” Otherwise, don’t hedge. Say what you mean. You will earn more respect.

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