Here’s something sort of infuriating.

When did “sort of” become something people say all the time? I heard a neuroscientist on NPR yesterday and he must’ve said “sort of” a couple of dozen times during a 30-minute segment. He actually said “…so the old brain sort of says ‘eat those cupcakes right now because fat and sugar are scarce’ and then the new brain sort of says ‘well, I’ll only have one…”.

And those weren’t even the most egregious examples.

I hear this over and over. I’ve even heard colleagues tell prospective clients about how “we use a proprietary research technique to sort of figure out why people make decisions” and then “sort of turn those insights into ideas.”

We don’t sort of do that. We really do that. I’d think clients might feel a tad diffident about paying us to sort of deliver some results.

We’ve always had “ya know” as default conversational padding. But I think that’s just an innocent, if irritating, verbal tic. “Sort of”, and it’s almost-as-insidious brother “kind of”, seem deliberately weaselly. It’s as though people are reluctant to make a definitive statement they can be pinned down about. Is this right? Are people just more prone to waffling than they used to be?

Why?

Please, somebody help me understand where this came from. Why do obviously very smart people who know exactly what they’re talking about feel the need to dilute their pronouncements this way?

Really, I’d sort of love to know.

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One comment

  1. It may come from British strategic planners in ad agencies. In the UK, there’s a loathsome false modesty habit which makes it essential to wrap up anything smart of direct in softer, more cuddly packaging. It could have migrated from the fairly substantial numbers of ad planners in the US to their clients, to the academic experts they consult from time to time, and I suppose to broadcasters. Everyone thinks it’s a sneaky trojan horse by which to sneak clever or ambitious thoughts into people’s minds. Like ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘you see what I mean’ it becomes addictive as something with which to fill a pause…

    Liked by 1 person

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