Could you sort of, maybe, perhaps?

I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately.

On a recent trip to France, I found myself in the company of two Francophiles who had an extremely high level of English. Even still, I was consciously trying to be more concise with my language. I refrained from idioms and slang to avoid having to break the flow of a conversation and repeat myself, but the words I found myself avoiding the most were the filler words that seems to flood my hearing on a day-to-day basis: ‘Perhaps’, ‘Sort of’, ‘You know’ & ‘Maybe’. Now granted, these words are necessary in some occasions, however I recently heard:

“What time is it?”

“It’s sort of half 6.”

I’m sorry, what?

How can it sort of be half past 6? Either it is or it isn’t. The time is the time. There’s no ‘sort of’ about it. This harks back to a previous post on the power of language, but it this experience really made me realised how wishy-washy the English language can be and how littered it is on a daily basis with this dangerous lack of conviction. It’s full of these filler words that can hide the real meaning or a sense of directness that many other languages (I’m thinking namely of German) omit. Not that these other languages don’t have the words in their vocabulary, more that speakers don’t use them in quite the same way. I think this is why many people consider Germans to be direct (or as the Daily Mail reader would put it, ‘rude’) – because their language doesn’t flow with these word.

Therefore I’m (sort of) posing a question: can English be more precise? It’s half 6. Not perhaps, not sort of, not maybe, is just is. I challenge you: try and listen to see if you use these filler words in your sentences and if you’re a victim, see if you can erase them without (perhaps) causing too much offence.

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One thought on “Could you sort of, maybe, perhaps?”

  1. Interesting! I also really enjoyed your piece on the power of language. These are the kind of phrases you don’t actually realise you’re saying. Another area to explore in this way could be the way we give instructions: “Could you just fetch me this…”., or “If you could just write this down for me, that would be great”. A lot of those words are just blab which are there to make the instructions more polite, and you’re right that other languages leave a lot of this out (again, German springs to mind!) I think it comes from not wanting to offend people. It seems unnecessary but if you told someone directly “write this down” or “get me that” etc and they were your equal, they’d probably be offended.

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