Words to Never Say, Part Two

This week we’re aiming our guns at the word like. (You knew this was coming.) If you care about precision in language, or just sounding more professional, read on.

If you use like as in enjoying something, or having affection toward someone, or using a direct comparison (“like a bat out of hell”), then keep it up. That’s the proper usage of the word.

But this last decade or so has seen the word explode as a kind of all-purpose verb/adjective:

“He was, like, (facial expression), and I like, (arms and hands indicating removal from the scene).” In Olde English, this might have meant, “He was upset and I quickly walked in the opposite direction.”

Or…

“That item is, like, over there in that aisle.” So is it actually over there in that aisle, or does it only seem as if it might be over there?

I know of more than one talented young person whose every 10th word is like. They need to stop, perform a like-ectomy on their vocabulary, and carry on making more sense. Research indicates that this will help in job interviews. Seriously.

Try using “it was as if…” if that will help, and if it applies. But you may find, as with kinda and sorta, that taking the expression out of your mouth completely will simply have the effect of strengthening your speech. Be brave. You can do it!

Words to Never Say, Part One

We’re going to spend a few weeks on words that should never, ever come out of our mouths, or only in specific and precise contexts. Why? Re-read the subtitle to this blog.

Sometimes these words and expressions shouldn’t be spoken simply because they are inaccurate. Other times, we should refrain from using these words because they are a reflection of the growing disintegration of our society and culture. (Would that I were joking!). We don’t want to help that trend along.

Our first candidates for elimination from our vocabulary are kinda and sorta. Now I know that I’ve misspelled them. But I hope that by doing so, we’ll be reminded that this spelling simply reflects the sloppiness of speech that has brought these two “words” into such common use.

Once upon a time, “kind of “ and “sort of” were used sparingly and accurately, when they were employed to grant a hint of moderation or approximation into a phrase. An example would be: “That strange action was kind of sweet.” Or “She is kind of new to this company.”

The hesitation associated with this works well when describing some situations. But it dilutes our speech when we use it as it is more commonly being used these days.

I often listen to a podcast where the main speaker says “kinda” and “sorta” a great deal. Examples: “How did you kinda of begin your research on this time in history?” “Kinda begin”? Really!? “Tell me when you sorta got together with this director.” My head hurts. The person began and met—direct and simple (and accurate). It’s nearly as absurd as saying that someone “kinda came in first.”

It’s kinda, sorta as if we were afraid of being straightforward, clean, direct, and precise—which I believe is the reason behind this usage. Listen for it. You’ll find it everywhere. It’s common, but so are colds.

Just try to excise these two expressions from your speech for a week. You’ll realize 1) you didn’t really need them after all, and 2) your speech will grow stronger and more muscular by the day.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this experiment.

Next week: Just one word that, God help us, has to go!

Language Extremes

Instead of focusing on a particular word or phrase this week, I’m going to share some thoughts on what’s happening in our society that is pushing us to inaccurate extremes of expression.

We’re living in a world of extremes. On one hand, there is a mushy, fearful and hesitant approach to our communication, best seen in the ubiquitous use of “kinda” and its cousin, “sorta.” It’s as if we are afraid of saying anything definitive or clear, perhaps for fear of actually standing for something. Listen to yourself and others, and you’ll likely be surprised by a couple of things: 1) How often kinda and sorta are used, and 2) how unnecessary they are. In fact, not only are they generally not necessary, but they dilute the meaning of what follows. “When did you kinda get started with such-and-such?” “I kinda got home late.” Huh? Just remove the phrase entirely from your vocabulary, and like a food allergy test, re-introduce it little by little into your speech, but only as necessary.

The other extreme can be blamed on social media and television. In an effort to stand out and be heard (either by what people post or what people say), we exaggerate and intensify, and thereby destroy any semblance of relativity. Everything must be the most and the best, and everything must be presented in the most extreme and sometimes throbbing manner.

Facebook posts tell us to click on the video, because WE WON”T BELIEVE what happens next.

Apparently the world is often not ready for someone’s dress, statement or action.

Every person is BEAUTIFUL, and every baby is GORGEOUS. And all our children are AMAZING! (I believe that beauty can be found in everyone, and that every baby is special. But I don’t think that those who call everyone beautiful are making this particular point.)

Television interviews of folks who are famous for being famous are not helping. Not everything is a crisis; not every other thing is INCREDIBLE.

Stunning used to mean that something stunned someone (or shocked him or her, or made someone unconscious). Awesome, whose attempts at maintaining its meaning have been an abject failure, used to mean inspiring awe, a powerful idea that loses its meaning when meals, small favors, and nights out can be described as awesome. Have we simply lost the concept of awe?

Let’s pull in our speech toward a clear and happy middle. Let’s pull away from exaggeration and intensity, and use hyperbole and passion only when necessary to make our speech clear. Let’s pull away from qualifying every other statement with kinda, and let’s get to our points without hesitance or compromise. Let’s not try to stand out; let’s just work to be clear and precise, because that would be kinda amazing!!!