Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unintentional hedging (4) – “kind of” and “sort of”

Unintentional hedging – the unintentional use of kind of, sort of, pretty much, about, umm, like, and other hedges – is an easy habit to fall into. I’ve discussed this habit in previous posts: (1), (2), (3).

Kind of and sort of appear to be especially addictive. Many people start out as occasional users and end up as heavy users. Heavy usage can hurt your credibility. By “heavy usage,” I mean usage that is frequent, egregious or both.


Here’s an example of “frequent.”

Because I am a speechwriter and speech coach, I can’t sit in an audience without mentally critiquing the speakers. Recently, at a technology conference, I noticed that one speaker (a man with a lot of academic degrees listed after his name) was frequently using kind of. For the remainder of his speech, I clocked him. On average, he used kind of once every nine seconds.

Now that’s just ridiculous, and even obtuse listeners are going to wake up and notice it. When they do, they will receive this unintended message from the speaker: “I’m not really saying anything. I’m just thinking out loud, and I’m not even sure of the thoughts. So, don’t listen to me. Check your email, play Tetris, or sneak out the door.”


Here’s an example of “egregious.”

Many speakers use kind of preceding a noun, adjective or adverb that denotes extremeness; for example, “It was kind of a disaster.” “He was kind of hideous.”

In a November 5 article, reporter Matt Taibbi gave us a great example. Mr. Taibbi is a “tough” reporter: a master of the exposé and a user of strong language. But even he succumbed to the habit of unintentional hedging:

“It’s kind of amazing that with all the uproar over the Galleon business, nobody is making much hay over the recent revelations about the AIG bailouts. . .”

Later in the article, he hedges the word amazing again, this time with sort of:

“That he bought 50,000 shares in Goldman after the AIG bailout and is not in jail right now is sort of amazing. . .”

Well, is it amazing or is it not amazing?

The Takeaway: Heavy use of the hedges kind of and sort of can damage your credibility. Check yourself occasionally. Use your word processing software to search for these phrases in copy you have written; check for egregious uses. Get a tape recording of yourself giving a speech or participating in a meeting or a conference call – don’t break any laws doing this. Listen to the tape, or have it transcribed, and count the hedges. If they are frequent (as a rule of thumb, more than one hedge per minute), you are undermining what you say. Try to become more conscious of this habit.

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