I don’t usually make resolutions for the New Year, maybe because it’s too easy to put off any big decision until December 31st. If I need to do something, I try to put it on my weekly to-do list so that it gets done. I also don’t usually tell you guys my plans to like, finally organize the bookshelf in the spare room or watch Felicity since it’s come up about sixteen times in the past month. These are things I can’t imagine you care to know.

However. I’ve found something I’d like to be held accountable to. It’s also something you might want to try as well. Because I think all of us, especially women and girls, will be better off with this resolution going forward.

I’m going to stop saying “sort of.”

I’m going to stop weakening my statements. Stop apologizing for the thing I’m saying while I’m saying it. Don’t let the listener have a chance to wonder if I might be completely full of shit.

I will stop deflating my statements with:

“Kind of.”
“Maybe like.”
“Or something.”
“A little like…”
“I mean in a sorta…”

This came from watching a serious amount of catch-up television this week while I am working on a new project. I don’t watch too much reality programming, but I like the “I Made This With My Hands So Now Please Vote For Me” shows. But when the designers/artists stand next to their works and defend them, I get itchy. Because they start saying “sort of.”

”I wanted to incorporate sort of the elements of nature and sort of make it all structural while still sort of kind of keeping it simple and beautiful. So I sort of used the lace here and then sort of filled in this part here while highlighting this other part here.”

Oh, my God, now I don’t want to vote for you! You sound like you hate what you’ve done and you’re afraid you’re about to get grounded for that dress!

When I hear “sort of” I cringe, because I remember how terrible I used to be at pitching. The first job I had where I had to pitch segment ideas in the room, I was so bad at it people did impressions of me pitching segment ideas.

They’d hunch down in their chairs, holding a notebook in a protective stance in front of their chest, squinch their faces as if someone has just smeared the table in fish guts, and then mumble, “Um, maybe in this one, he could sort of go to like, uh, like the store and um, go to like the express aisle and like, yell at the people who try to buy more than thirteen items or whatever Idon’tknowit’sstupidforgetit.”

And it was a spot-on impression.

Since then I’ve pitched hundreds of jokes and story lines and act breaks and episode ideas and show ideas and movie treatments and book proposals and I’ve had moments of inspired brilliance and long, quiet moments of tanking in front of so many people.

But I’ve gotten better. Much better. I no longer end my pitches with, “I don’t know, that’s probably stupid, forget it.”

However. When I’m on the spot and have to answer questions, or when I’m giving an interview, I find myself saying “sort of” right in the middle of my thought, and I hate it. I hate how it makes me sound. Like I don’t know what I mean. Like I’m already expecting the “no.”

Don Draper doesn’t say “sort of!”

…okay, so someone writes his words. You have a point. Okay. I got a better example.

Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t say “sort of” when she’s talking about how well Activia works on her colon.

And I don’t think she’s reading words off a page most of the time. I think she’s just stoked about probiotics. Doesn’t she seem confident and assured? Don’t you trust she’s pooping on the regular? Don’t you want to sound like you totally know when and where you poop and you got that shit on lock?

The secret: No more “sort of.” Also: no more ending your sentences like they are questions. Don’t ask permission for your thoughts! State them!

More declarative sentences in 2012!

WHO’S WITH ME? Oh, no! Now that I’m assured I’m yelling more! I’M YELLING WITH CONFIDENCE! I’M SORT OF NOT KIDDING!

[Image from Obscure Protest]

14 thoughts on “Resolution 2012: Stop Saying “Sort Of.”

  1. This is a little like forcing yourself to smile when you’re feeling unhappy — attacking the symptom instead of the underlying cause. But, you know, that can actually work. So this is a good idea. Somewhat. Hurr hurr hurr.

    “Sort of” should be used for effect, the way you used “like” in the first paragraph. I use it a lot, on purpose, when I’m laying down heavy ideas or making an argument to people who might feel threatened. It’s disarming. I call this my hippie voice.

  2. Brilliant goal!

    I find myself doing this, too, and then also beating myself up about it.

    My other self peeves:

    I’d like to stop nervously repeating myself in the middle of the same conversation, like I belong in Rain Main, and stop assuming the listener needs to hear it twice to get it.

    I’d also like to lose “So, anyway” as a conversation transition.

    Happy new year (and good luck)!

  3. OH MY GOD THANK YOU, re. declarative sentences. Young (like, fresh out of college) women, especially seem to have caught a plague of vocal lift at the end of every sentence and it makes them seem insecure, weak and a little dumb. I always want to shake them and say “Own what you’re saying!” Agh.

  4. YES — I have to really work at this, too. I’m in a profession where it really behooves me to come across as assertive and confident(although, I suppose, they all do) and it is SO HARD FOR ME TO DO. I like to think it’s not societal conditioning making me doubt myself, and that it’s more that I’m a very quiet, retiring person in the wrong profession, but there’s likely a bit of both going on. Anyway, yes.

  5. I’ve gotten to the point that when I hear myself say something I know to be declarative, but my voice makes it sound like a question, I then say, “I realize that sounded like a question, but it’s not one.” It’s a start.

  6. What you said. PLUS! Stop saying “so”. It’s a freaking epidemic, especially in my office, because our female manager says it. Constantly. Seriously. During a one-hour meeting, I kept track of how many times she said “so”: 65. And I missed a few because of brain freeze.

    It’s popping up in other places now, too: tv, podcasts, news, etc.

    “How do you feel about the revolution in Egypt?” “So, here’s what happened….” or “So, yeah. So, here’s the thing.”

    “You cookies are delicious!” “So, I got the recipe from my mom!”

    “What did you do yesterday?” “So, I went shopping…”

    GAH!

  7. HOORAY!

    I hear a variation of this that really bugs me: using “probably” and “definitely” to temper what should be actual statements.

    As in, “I probably really want to do this.” “I probably really don’t expect anyone to make this.” “I definitely really feel it has its limitations.” “I definitely sort of lost track of her a bit.” “I probably really need to get life insurance.” “I definitely really feel extra energetic when I do this.” “I definitely sort of zoned out by diving into that book from time to time.”

    It’s like we’re so afraid to just make a statement, even about our feelings, that we have to layer all these caveats in there. MAYBE I sort of feel that way about this, but I DEFINITELY *think* that I’m going to do that other thing first….

  8. I always notice it in other people’s work and then forget to notice it in my own. Of course, sometimes I AM being wishy-washy with my opinions, in which case I will sort of bring the kinda thunder.

  9. This is an awesome resolution. I made a similar decision recently at work. I stopped apologizing for or qualifying my opinions and ideas and I have noticed a tangible difference in the amount of respect, responsibility, and compensation I’ve gotten since then. Although the way I defined it for myself was to “say it like a man would.”

  10. I once did a word-cloud of the most commonly used words in my novel and SOMETHING and SORT OF were among the most oft-used. This was a big wake up call to stop deflecting my prose (and speech) with these terms. I wonder also if it has to do with being socialized as a girl — girls are encouraged to “play nice,” not to cause trouble, etc. and thus we feel uncomfortable just putting stuff out there. Turning it into a question or adding “sort of” shows we’re still “nice,” open to suggestion, not bitches, etc. Even in this comment I’m having to stop myself adding question marks or saying “partly” so I don’t seem too controversial! Arrgh!

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