I’m Kind of Sick of This—August 10, 2017

Careless conversational tics are slowly killing communication.

A couple of years ago I was on a conference call with one of my agency clients. Also on the call was a biopharma company that had engaged the agency for a bylined article project. I was on the call because I was to write the article on the biopharma company's behalf. The head of the agency, an old friend of mine, had told me beforehand that the biopharma CEO would be on the call, along with a few of her colleagues, and that the CEO could be somewhat prickly. 

My agency client was the host of the call, and when it started he sounded nervous. "We kind of want to find out what you want to say in this article," he explained at the outset of the call, "so we can kind of understand how to structure the article."

Hearing this, I wondered, What is it with "kind of?" I know my friend is nervous about this project, but this use of "kind of" doesn't inspire much confidence in him.

More recently, a couple of weeks ago, I was on another call with another agency client, and one of the client's clients. Once again, the subject was an article I would write on behalf of the client's client, and we wanted to get their input. The agency representative opened the call by announcing, "I'm kind of going to start the call by letting Peter kind of ask you questions."

It took all my will to stop myself from sending the agency rep an urgent email, entitled, STOP SAYING "KIND OF".

"Kind of" has become conversational filler, and I can't stand it. It used to be that people would carelessly insert "you know," or similarly innocuous phrases, in the middle of spoken sentences, presumably to give themselves a few nanoseconds to think of the words they were searching for to finish the sentence. What makes "kind of" so maddening is that it has the unfortunate effect of making the speaker sound insincere, as if the speaker doesn't really mean what he or she is saying. We don't kind of want to know your thoughts on the article, we really want to know your thoughts! But God forbid we should communicate our desires so clearly!

Another conversational tic that drives me crazy is the overuse of "perfect." I have another agency client, a very bright young man in his 20s, a rising star at his agency; I really enjoy working with him. But like many of his peers, he has the habit of punctuating his conversation with the word, "perfect." I might be on the phone with him, telling him that I failed to connect with the KOL I was assigned to interview because of a scheduling snafu, and that the article would therefore be delayed. "OK, perfect," he'd respond, not at all sarcastically. "We'll adjust the timeline." No, it is not perfect, I'd be tempted to say, but I let it go.

My client is not the only 20-something I've heard use the word "perfect" in this way; it seems to have become common usage among the younger crowd (I know, there I go again, sounding like an old fogey, but I suppose I am one). For many, "perfect" seems to have replaced "brilliant" as a catch-all conversational filler. I think it's meant to convey something along the lines of, "I hear you," or "I get you," or that the two people in the conversation have established a connection.

Still, as someone who makes a living as a writer, I feel I haven't done my job if I've written something that isn't crystal clear. In that vein, these tics strike me as careless because they are unclear, and conversational English is dying a slow death because of them.  

Am I too much of a curmudgeon, or does this ring true for any of you? What other conversational tics drive you crazy?