Thursday, November 18, 2010

Avoid using multiple hedges (2)

Multiple hedges undermine your credibility. I gave an example of multiple hedges in a previous post. Here’s another example, from a November 11 news story.

An example of multiple hedges in one sentence

A public school superintendent explains why he forced a student to remove a U.S. flag from his bicycle:

“Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they’ll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don’t really want.” (Boldface added.)


The sentence contains seven hedges.*

First hedge: you know (One of the all-time favorite hedges, along with sorta, like, and I’m just saying.)

Second hedge: “you know” (Second instance.)

Third hedge: “the kids” (He calls the students who will display Mexican flags “[o]ur Hispanic… kids.” He calls the students who will display the American flag “the kids”; which kids are they?)

Fourth hedge: “the American flag situation” (He calls Mexican flags “Mexican flags” and calls the American flag “the American flag situation.”)

Fifth hedge: “it” in “it does cause” (The antecedent of this pronoun is crucial to the meaning of the sentence, but he does not specify it. He forces us to guess the antecedent; my guess is “the simultaneous display of flags of more than one nation.”)

Sixth hedge: “kind of a” (Not racial tension, but “kind of a racial tension.”)

Seventh hedge: “don’t really want” (Here, at the end of the sentence, he has an opportunity to make a straightforward statement: We do not want racial tension. But he hedges again.)

My restatement of the sentence

When flags of more than one nation are simultaneously displayed, they cause racial tension, and we do not want racial tension.**

The Takeaway: When listeners hear multiple hedges per sentence, they stop taking you seriously. If you must use hedges, use them sparingly.

See disclaimer.

*I have considered only the hedges; I have not enumerated the superintendent’s grammar errors (for example, a singular pronoun with a plural antecedent) or logic errors (for example, the assertion that pieces of cloth can cause people to think hostile thoughts).

**I am assuming – but cannot be certain – that I have correctly guessed the superintendent’s meaning.

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