Bryan Garner on Sloppy Colloquialisms . . . .

IMG_0005 Garner 2 Lately, the colloquial expression “kind of” proliferated conversation at a networking event that I attended. It was uttered and passed from one person to another, until I had heard it several times. It seemed like it was arising when people communicated under social pressure (and perhaps a drink or two?). “Kind of” is a cousin of those other irritants: “like” (which stems from “Valley Girl speak”) “you know,” “and so on,” and “or whatever,” to name a few.

American etymologist Bryan Garner (in “Garner’s Tip of the Day” from Oxford University Press) has heard it enough that he writes that “kind of is a poor substitute for “somewhat,” “rather,” “somehow,” and similar adverbs. (He says that it properly functions as a noun, however, to signify a category or class in phrases such as “this kind of paper.” But that’s not the use that I’m observing, here.)

The sloppy adverb phrase (“kind of”) is the more common of these two uses, as in “I took the screwdriver and kind of pried the door open.”

Garner notes that if that wasn’t colloquial enough, there is a derivative usage. I even heard it recently on the local, nightly news! The derivative is “kind of a.”  

Garner says that “with this phrasing, not only is the ‘a’ unnecessary, it is also typical of” what he calls “uncultivated speech.” He says that “It depends on what kind of vacation you want,” is preferable to “It depends on what kind of a vacation you want.” (In the former example, here, the phrase functions as a noun, which is acceptable. The derivative “kind of a” Garner detests.)

Like most writers, I prefer silence to verbiage. I’d rather (not “kind of”) hear a speaker pause in conversation (especially if it’s to think) than hear him or her fill the air with sloppy colloquialisms. Most speakers are not stupid–I think they give in too quickly to the pressure to fill silence, without taking the necessary time to think about what have to say.

Do you notice yourself using “kind of” or “kind of a?” Pause when you think of them. You’re entitled to take the time to think and speak better!

Please write to me with your “pet peeves” of English usage! I continue to appreciate that Garner challenges to us to speak, read and write English as well as possible.


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