Sunday, November 18, 2007

Very sort of perfect: The repetitive use of a filler phrase

You’ve heard it all your life, and you’ll probably hear it or read it before today is done. It’s the oft-used phrase “sort of.” The biggest problem with it, in my view, is how often it is used and misused.

Anything done to excess is bothersome, and people who say “sort of” tend to say it ALL THE TIME.

“We can all have a delightful time sort of enjoying the beach.” Sort of sort of sort of … . Here’s my standard, helpful advice: STOP IT!

It’s like a potato chip for some people — they can’t have just one. Maybe they say it to soften their views, to keep from sounding too opinionated, too harsh. Maybe they feel it makes them sound kinder, gentler. It also makes them sound wishy-washy, unfocused, bumbling and, if I may say so, it makes them deeply irritating.

“The Smiths brought a sort of casserole to the event, a sort of neighborhood gathering that sort of brought all the residents together to sort of meet and sort of chill out.”

You have to ask yourself if that statement is even worth hearing.

In the first place, what in the world is a “sort of” casserole? For heaven’s sake, if it’s a casserole, call it that. Same for a neighborhood gathering and for a bringing together and for every other thing you want to say the rest of your life. Say it all and take your chances.

Try this experiment — next time you hear someone say “sort of,” pay attention. Start counting. You’ll be amazed and secretly delighted as the count soars. They cannot help it.

Of course, we all know that “like” users do the same with their favorite crutch, as do those who use “you know” repeatedly. And “kind of”? Same as “sort of.” (Don’t even get me started on those who say “kinda sorta”! Whoa.)

There’s an extra danger with “sort of.” The people who can’t escape using that language space filler, that weakening and softening toss-in phrase, go so far that inevitably they mess up their language even further.

With their endless (but not countless, thanks to you and me) uses of “sort of,” they eventually make statements like, “It was a very sort of happy time,” or “We were very sort of shocked.”

See the problem? You can have very, and you can have sort of, but you can’t have them together. If something is very anything, then it can’t be sort of that thing. The hole is either very deep or sort of deep; it is not very sort of deep.

In what instances is it a good idea to say “very sort of”? Oh, never.

Now here’s the worst of all. At some point, our “sort of” user will declare that something is “Sort of perfect.” No, nope, nuh-uh. There are no degrees of perfection. It’s perfect or it’s not.

My daddy used to say, “There’s no such thing as a little bit of garlic.” Same goes for perfection.

You’re aware of some absolutes — things that either are or are not. It seems obvious, does it not, that perfect is an absolute, as are unanimous and dead. Some add pregnant to the list.

However, a few scholars maintain that something can be “more perfect” or “less perfect.” Their argument is that nothing in the world is perfect, and we therefore should acknowledge the degrees of it.

Naturally, those experts toss ole Thomas Jefferson and his “more perfect union” into their argument. I say it’s a mistake to let the language get so loose. It’s perfect or it isn’t.

“That is the most perfect gift!” No it’s not. Can’t be.

Personally, I like garlic. Flavorful, aromatic, plentiful and healthful. All in all, it’s very sort of perfect.



Jeff Axelrod said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so glad to hear someone else notice this growing and irritating phenomenon. I am going to bring this to the attention of Grant and Martha at "A Way With Words." (
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miladear said...

This phrase makes me crazy. Not sort of crazy. No. Full blown I'm-gonna-throw-my-cup-of-coffee-against-the-wall, crazy.

Can someone explain to me WHY every supposed person of some level of knowledge or insight uses this mouth poop?

I hear it from political pundits as well as from the regular commentators you see on the morning/nightly news programs. Let's not forget the celebrities being interviewed for the latest FABULOUS thing they are doing.

Heck I just saw it in print in reference to why McCain chose Sarah Palin: "And it [blog] starts pushing Palin and gets picked up by many other conservative blogs and then finally works its way into kind of conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh, and the American Spectator, conservative magazines. So there's this sort of growing groundswell."

Did you notice the not as often used but equally annoying cousin phrase "kind of"?

Thank you for allowing me to vent. Now I better go sort of clean up my coffee mess ;)

_ said...

I found your post by Googling "very sort of". I was wondering if others out there found it as annoying as I do. I hear "journalists" use it all the time.

Isacc said...

LMAO! This is great!

I just got done watching V.P of the United States of America in a conference with the newly elected Governors and counted the use of "UHHH" 39 times in 4 minutes.

I hypothesize that it is global effects of the the misconstrued logic of the lower class perpetuated by the Calvinist ideology. HAHAH! your plan backed fired power hungry mongrels.