A couple of my favorite talk-show hosts who provide commentary on news and politics of the day have a habit that detracts from their professional persona and hurts their credibility: They overuse the qualifiers sort of and kind of.
It bothers me to see smart people I like and respect broadcasting this shortcoming in their job communication skills via the megaphone of television.
A qualifier is a word or phrase that modifies another word, expressing a degree or level:
I’m sort of devastated that he lost the election.
She was kind of passionate about voting rights.
They sort of proved that getting out the vote does matter.
He kind of collapsed when he heard the news.
Consider the meanings of the words being modified:
devastated: experiencing severe and overwhelming shock or grief
passionate: having strong feelings or a strong belief
proved: demonstrated to be truthful by evidence or argument
collapsed: to fall down or in; to give way
These definitions don’t lend themselves to softening by adding sort of or kind of. The example that pops into my mind when I hear such statements is: Can someone be sort of or kind of pregnant? No; either you are or you aren’t.
Although the two commentators are among the younger ones in their field, I’m not sure their qualifier habit is related to age. Even older, more-experienced hosts and their guests can be guilty of qualifier abuse. It’s almost a verbal tic.
There are times when a qualifier can be helpful — and appropriate. For example, if you were a supervisor disappointed in a report turned in by someone in your office, you might want to let the person know without crushing her ego:
“Kim, you presented a lot of solid facts in your report, but I was sort of disappointed that you left out the data on our recent sales campaign.” It lets Kim know that her efforts were good overall, but that she fell short in one area.
I wish my two favorite television hosts would watch themselves on tape. I think they would immediately become aware that overuse and inappropriate use of qualifiers reflects negatively on their communication skills and detracts from their professionalism.
I try to learn from these examples, keeping an ear out for my own sort of’s and kind of’s. We all can take a lesson from communication that falls short.
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