Not Sort Of Serious, But Sort Of Clear

I can't stand it anymore. There are always words and phrases floating around that make me cringe, but one phrase in particular is really making me crazy. It's the two-word phrase sort of. Frequently, these words together are used to denote an approximation, or something less than 100%; you also see kind of used in the same way. It's a common, almost slang, usage.

That double bacon cheeseburger left me feeling sort of queasy.

That double bacon cheeseburger left me feeling kind of queasy.

And in some sentences, the same two words are used to mean something more along the lines of not really. It's still a reduction; it lowers the value to something less than 100%.

I'm sort of looking forward to my vacation next week.

Originally, sort of and kind of were used to indicate type, or category—more accurately, a subset—and the phrases are still used in that manner, too.

Like the Cottonwood and Poplar, the Aspen is a sort of Willow tree.

I think the word type would have been a better choice than sort in that sentence, but the meaning is the same nonetheless.

Anyway, that's how the phrases are typically used, and the strictest of grammar rules aside, everyone understands the intent of sentences like the ones above. Nothing momentous about that. But amazingly, to some people, sort of has somehow become a modifier used not just to water down or diminish a related word, but to actually contradict it! I've heard this abomination uttered twice in as many weeks now, and I just can't understand why otherwise articulate, intelligent people would want to do this sort of thing. Especially not on a national—make that global, because of streaming audio—radio program.

I'm not sort of seriously studying that right now, but . . .

What can this mean? If seriousness is already diminished with sort of, then negated with not, we're left with the opposite of partially serious study. If not is negating sort of, I guess we'd be left with some fairly serious study, but I don't think that was the speaker's intent. Maybe it's all about intermittent study with a flippant attitude. I don't know. But the more recent example really made me get up and snort, possibly because it was spoken by someone of education and influence, and worse, on a program noted for the thoughtful commentary of its panel.

He sort of clearly looks like a man who . . .

Since the original context of the discussion had to do with politics, I suppose murkiness isn't out of the question, sometimes. In any case, I feel better now. Rant closed.   


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