I was listening to the latest Ezra Klein show today about the attention economy. While listening, I was out on a walk with my dog and I noticed his guest threw in “kind of” and “sort of” a lot. Once I notice something like this I can’t stop noticing it, so I had to turn the show off and walk in silence - which was nice, but that’s another discussion.
When I got home I decided to look into this matter more. Searching the transcript for the show, “kind of” and “sort of” had over 100 hits between the two, with “kind of” being more prominent. Thinking about it more, I realized I’ve noticed this quite a bit while listening to shows this year, so I decided to do a little research. Seems it’s a known thing, so I’m not crazy!
Once I notice these little phrases they do get under my skin. It is not so much the phrase itself. but the repetition of it. It is simply another form of “err” and “umm”. There are others, a guy I used to work with always said “if that make sense” at the end of sentences.
However, none of those get under my skin as much as when people use “literally” and “ambivalent” incorrectly.
I supose we all kind of have these sort of things that annoy us.
A lot of people have mannerisms, I know I do. When I notice them, I work to stop, and then eventually another one appears.
Contrast this with Footballers (no, not American Football) who stereotypically use “Y’know”. David Beckham was famous for his mannerisms (he couldn’t half cross a ball too)
I don’t think it’s specific to podcasts, just that other areas (e.g. UK News programs) wouldn’t allow this on their programs for a presenter or a prominent guest, and many well known personalities get coaching to be more polished.
There is one podcast presenter* who ums and ers a lot, and I have stopped listening to their podcasts.
Having said that, I happened to hear them for a bit recently and they were much improved, so maybe I’ll revisit when I next feel like expanding my library.
(* there are lots, but only one that I wanted to listen to)
I never stop noticing these kinds of things, including this one you mention, which I started noticing about 20 or 25 years ago on U.S. public radio and in people who often were either in academia or academia-adjacent, like people who were fresh out of graduate school. They tended to favor “sort of.”
I used to try to do amateur linguistic forensics to figure out how these things crept into usage, but it never helped. More helpful is noticing when I’m doing something similar, to remind myself that there’s always somebody somewhere who’s likely as piqued by me as I am by others.
I’ve been silently critiquing local TV news reporters for a while now. There’s one fairly new chap who is constantly tripping over his words and it really does nothing to help get the message across. The best, currently, is a foreign correspondent who routinely speaks at length very eloquently and manages to portray not only information but some of the emotion of the situation (like the devastating earthquake in Turkey).
The difference between these two people is that one knows her subject, much of which would be learned in the last few hours or days, while the other seems to be winging it all of the time. This jibes with my own experience of standing in front of a room of people and speaking in my work context. When I know the subject well, I have no problem and am often complimented on my work. If I don’t know it, then I feel anxious and I can tell people notice it.
I can relate to this SO MUCH. I worked really hard as a sales person and then as a researcher giving seminars to remove all the “um / uh / but / basically / kind of” spacers from my speaking, so when I hear it in podcasts I find it particularly grating
Minor gripe about Art of Manliness - it used to be a fun podcast with varied content, now it’s just become a stop for anyone on a book tour or has an online course to sell. That can be said for a lot of podcasts I guess, but AoM has fallen hard into this content style.
I agree. Yes, we all have verbal ticks unless we work on them, but it’s still very hard to listen to someone on a podcast who seems oblivious to their own.
Over the last year, two of my absolute favorite podcasters have both started adding “, right?” to a high percentage of their sentences. Beyond the repetitive word, the unintentional and implicit attitude (“I am correct and no counter argument even need be made”) really grates on me.
I do a lot of public speaking and I know I have similarly frustrating ticks from time to time. That doesn’t make other people’s any easier to hear in the moment.
I think the difference in tone, delivery, and word use is a result that many podcasts and podcasters have not been trained in broadcasting which is essentially what they are doing. Most podcasters, especially new ones, are amateurs or enthusiasts for the technology they are talking about, and they talk about it like they would be talking to friends in a bar. People who have taken formal broadcasting training, on the other hand, have learned how to deliver information in a way that removes all the indosyncracies, ticks, habitual expressions, etc.
Like most things, there’s a happy medium or sweet spot, depending on the purpose and audience of the podcast.
A podcast can’t ever be like a “natural conversation” with a person or group of people. So much communication is lost when you are only hearing the audio and you have no way to steer the conversation or ask for clarification or give non-verbal feedback to whoever is talking. It’s inevitably artificial. The traditional broadcasting emphasis on clarity, avoidance of ums and ahs and repetition reflect that reality and the most conversational and “natural” podcasts (or radio) tend to be thoughtfully edited and structured. I don’t need professional broadcast standards for something to be worth listening to, but if the signal gets too lost in the noise that’s a shame.
Just a general note from a pretty decent speaker that still has all manner of verbal tics…
I’ve generally found that if you’re noticing every little verbal tic, you’re either highly observant or the content isn’t very interesting. Fun, fascinating content covers over a multitude of sins. If the audience is super-interested, or is laughing, the odds of them noticing verbal foibles is pretty minimal.