English XXI – Fillers Part Four

“I Sort of, Kind of, Enjoy Life”

This is another in my series of posts that deal with fillers. I am coming to the conclusion that fillers are here to stay. I don’t want to accept this reality, and I continue to look for signs that the use of fillers is one the wane, but I feel increasingly helpless in my quest to reverse the trend.

I have discussed the use of the most common fillers, such as ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘I mean’. They are still out there as frequently used as ever. But, in the last two or three years I have noticed that a couple of expressions have taken on the characteristics of fillers. I will provide an example, and I think you will quickly notice the issue. This is something I might say on a topic of interest to me:

I enjoy reading novels, and sort of like the older ones. I kind of prefer novels written in different time periods, because they kind of give a different perspective on people and culture. For example, I sort of relate to the characters in Thomas Hardy’s novels, even though I kind of have difficulty understanding the cultural context of late nineteenth and early twentieth century England. It’s kind of hard to put myself in that pre-WWI, post-Victorian mindset.

 You no doubt noticed the number of times I used sort of and kind of.  What do these expressions tells us about the person speaking? Both of these expressions imply that I am unsure or that I have doubts about the topic I am describing. They communicate the idea that I have not thought about the subject enough to come up with a clear idea or opinion.

Well, that is not so unusual. If I am having an impromptu conversation with someone, and I am going into territory that I am not very familiar with, I might employ one or both of these expressions. But, if I do, I will use them when really necessary. I certainly won’t use them in every other sentence. I will probably state, early on in the discussion, that the topic is one I am not very familiar with, so I won’t feel the pressure to qualify so many of my comments.

If people are having a discussion, one that at least one of the participants has solid knowledge of, and that person uses one of these terms repeatedly, it tells me something. There are actually two possibilities, as far as I can discern. First, the person simply does not have a good grasp of the subject after all. That is the clear implication. Both of the expressions imply some level of doubt. If the person uses these terms repeatedly, then it is obvious that the person is not sure about the subject.

“I think the central theme of that novel is kind of vague,” a person might say. My response would be, “You don’t know if it is vague or not?” The person then says, “No, it is vague, for sure.” “Yes,” I say, “but you just said it was kind of vague. That sounds like you are unsure.” The point I am making is that this knowledgeable person should simply state what he/she feels and not try to hedge her/his bets by adding the ‘kind of’.

Now, let’s say the person really is an expert on a subject, but interjects the ‘kind of’ and sort of’ expressions frequently. If I am convinced of the person’s expertise, then I have to come to another conclusion. Obviously, this person has developed an addiction to these recent fillers. I have two examples from the real world to make my point.

I was listening to NPR one afternoon driving to my office, and the announcer explained the upcoming interview subject and described the person to be interviewed. It was going to involve a history subject, and an expert was going to explain the deeper significance of the period in question. Frankly, I don’t recall now the exact topic, but that is part of the point I want to make. The interview began, and I was instantly interested. I knew something about the general topic, so I was going to be entertained and better informed on a good topic.

Several minutes into the interview, I noticed a pattern on behalf of the expert. This person, a man, could not get two sentences out without using either ‘sort of’ or ‘kind of’. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. The subject was indeed highly interesting. The person obviously had done considerable research. I was a ‘captive audience’ and ready to get some great insights. However, the frequently inserted fillers made me start to think. Using those particular fillers left me with the impression that the person was not sure about his conclusions. I understand that not even experts have all he answers, and they don’t always know the tiniest details. I accept that, but there are better ways of expressing this.

Instead of saying, “It is kind of a difficult situation to understand,” and “I sort of realized that the conditions had changed,” the person might have said, “The situation was complex, and it is hard to make sense of all the events,” and “It was clear that the conditions had changed, but the reasons for the change were unclear.” I became so frustrated with the interview that I finally changed he channel on my radio. I realized that the problem was not the interviewee’s lack of deep understanding of the subject, rather it was an indication that the person had a filler addiction. Fortunately, the next pre-set button was the local classical music station, and I let Brahms help me feel more comfortable.

The other example involves a video that I show in one of my classes at Wilmington College. I teach a course called Global Issues & Awareness in which we learn about and discuss the major problems in the world today. The video I refer to was made by an activist and involves the occupied territories of the West Bank. It deals with the fact that Israel plays a highly invasive role in the lives of the Palestinians in the Palestinian’s own territory. It is a compelling video that is comprised mostly of photographs that show the constant obstacles that Palestinian residents have to deal with in their everyday lives.

I use the video every tie I teach the course, which means that I have seen it lots of times. About the third time I used the video I realized that in the first fifteen minutes, when the activist is shown on the screen explaining her background and providing an explanation for her activist activities, that she used ‘sort of’ and ‘kind of’ over and over again. I do not doubt for a moment this person’s knowledge of the subject or her commitment to bring about change in the struggle for the Palestinians to have some semblance of a normal life. What I concluded was she shows in the video a clear habit of using those fillers. What I don’t understand is why she didn’t realize that she was using those fillers when the recording was being made and edited and decide to re-do the introductory segment without those fillers.

At a time when fillers are running rampant, I find it hard to accept that new fillers are being created. It is another sign of the fact that we are collectively being challenged to express ourselves clearly and demonstrate that we have deep knowledge of a subject and that we can communicate our thoughts and opinions without a lot of verbal noise. I find that noise very distracting, and I cannot believe that many others don’t feel the same way.

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