Sort Of.

Something’s rotten in the state of language today.

But I know you don’t come here for the commentary; you come here for the Taffy. So here he is:

Nothing’s rotten about Taffy. He’s fine.

There is a decay of the euphony and precision of language.

Please don’t wake me No don’t shake me, Leave me where I am. I’m only sleeping.

A blight.

Creative napping. The best part is the three Blue Jays looking in, wondering, Is that cat dead? Because we Blue Jays are carnivores and that cat looks mighty tasty.

There is a plague of mealy-mouth dithering, across the land, and it’s all because of two ubiquitous words.


Last Thursday, on NPR (National Public Radio, the hi-brow talk radio of progressive politics and culture),  I heard a pundit explain to an morning news show host: There’s sort of a definition of “terrorist” that does not call out white supremacy. (1)

On Friday, on NPR’s evening news program All Things Considered, an economist discussed on-line markets as opposed to real world economies: They [on-line stores] don’t sort of have a place consumers can go to. (2)

Reading the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the gold standard of long form journalism. . .

Cover of New York Times Magazine for March 31, 2019, the headline “Can a Woman Play Shakespeare’s Lear?” Ew. I cannot tell you how much I do not care whether Glenda Jackson can play King Lear or not.


. . . from a story about the hot shot agents who are representing the best selling Tell All authors from Trump’s administration, this quote: The challenge with Trump people is they’re looking for legitimacy and they’re looking for sort of an outlet to unburden themselves o the baggage that comes with the job. (3)

Monday night, I’m reading my new favorite book, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. On page 402, Mr. Pollan quotes a psychiatrist who hopes that in the future, sick and well people will have access to therapeutic psychedelic drugs in a place that is safe and supportive, a place that is Sort of like a cross between a spa/retreat and a gym. (4)

On Tuesday afternoon, I am listening to my local NPR affiliate, to an interview of a curator of a new show at the world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art; the curator is explaining why she chose to exhibit racist art: If we eliminated it from art history we would sort of be missing a teaching opportunity. (5)

I could go on and on, but let’s let these five examples suffice.

What do all of these citations have in common?

Two little words.

Sort Of.

Synonyms for sort of: slightly, faintly, remotely, vaguely; kind of, somewhat, moderately, to a limited extent.

So, then:

(1)  There’s sort of  slightly a definition of “terrorist” that does not call out white supremacy as such.

(2) They don’t sort of faintly have a place consumers can go to.

(3) The challenge with Trump people is they’re looking for legitimacy and they’re looking for sort of  remotely an outlet to unburden themselves of the baggage that comes with the job.

(4) Sort of Vaguely like a cross between a spa/retreat and a gym.

(5) If we eliminated it from art history we would sort of kind of, moderately, to a limited extent be missing a teaching opportunity. 

Really? Have we become a people that can’t spit out an unqualified thought, opinion, or factoid?

I think that we are so used to hearing “sort of” in conversation that we don’t even recognize it as something that is rotting out any kind of accuracy, or coherence, or credibility in the language.

Sort of is annoyingly passive. It’s dickishly timid. Sort of are mincing filler words that seem to spew randomly from the mouths of people with no back bone, no real gumption, no true point of view. Sort of is for wimps. Sort of is trying to be cute, as if talking like a high school stoner will make you look younger. Sort of is flabby, and coy. It makes you sound stupid. So stop it.

Thank you.

As long as I’ve got you here, can I also request that you stop using the word lyrical to describe a painting, a design, dance, or screen/book writing? It doesn’t make you sound more poetic and deep; for christ sake just say pretty.

And stop using half a decade as an imposing length of time. You can’t inflate the importance, seriousness, weight, or  awesomeness that is half a decade. It’s still just five lousy years. FIVE. Top Cat has shirts that he bought five years ago that he hasn’t gotten around to wearing yet so half a decade is, like, six months in experiential time when you’re a grown up.

Also, when I have to rev up the Toyota hybrid to accomplish a long To Do List in an afternoon, would you all please stay off the roads? I don’t want to have to deal with your absent-minded turn-signaling, your day-dreaming when the light turns green,  and your hogging of the left lane at exactly the speed limit.

That is all. For now.

Last week, Dear Reader Meghan (Yes, that Meghan, the Duchess of Melbourne), came to the rescue when I asked about a mysterious book shop that comes and goes in London. Here it is, my Dear Ones:

This is the Lost Lending Library by Punchdrunk  Enrichment with lists its offices in The Canon Factory in London. They visit schools (they have even been in our own Meghan’s neck of the woods) to install secret lending libraries. The kids visit it and, inspired, they write their own stories, which are then added to the collection of the Lost Lending Library.


I have plans for the used book store that I co-manage and I want to steal the esthetic of the Lost Lending Library. The source of my inspiration is a book that we got in as a donation a few months ago. . . and I will tell you more about it next week (I can hear Top Cat in my head complaint that this blog post is already too damn long).

But I know that as much as you all love the Taffy content here in this humble blog, you also love to hear the latest updates on the little used book store that I co-manage here on the north shore of Long Island. Here’s a typical donation:

At least once a week somebody drops off a pile of books on the doorstep of the used book store. I thought this doorstep deposit was above average because it’s cantilevered. There’s also a big coffee table book about Colonial Williamsburg. What is it about Colonial Williamsburg? We get a lot of books about Colonial Williamsburg, usually in the kinds of donations that happen when there’s been the death of an elder in the family. I guess at one time, Colonial Williamsburg was the hottest thing in American culture but jeez…do people not know that Colonial Williamsburg is a recreation, and it’s totally fake from top to bottom?

The old Colonial Williamsburg books never sell, but I always give the latest one a chance — I put it on the shelf and leave it there until we need the room for something that the people who buy used books actually want, such as picture books about dogs.

And then this fell out from a 2001 Frommer’s travel guide to Italy:

And that’s the news from my corner of the universe, that corner of Reality in which we do not Sort Of, in which five years is a blink of an eye, in which we dream up ways to make a lowly used book store feel more ensorcelled, and in which we do not jump for joy when we find a dead Blue Jay on the street because songbirds are protected species and it’s wrong to put them in your freezer and then desiccate them like the Native Americans do to collect their feathers, no, we don’t do that.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Taffy hopes that you all get a good tummy rub and a chin scritch to give you sweet dreams at nap time.

14 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Always good to see Taffy, he really does not want you to ever stop that, see his face as you tickle under his chin, he’s in heaven. I do so come for the felines all of them, however I also very much come for the opinions, they make you think which is good. Too little thinking is done these days, it is a problem. I think I am more than a little pedantic about language and it is being corrupted and I have heated discussions with people who think either that I am insane or I have too little to do to be so interested in the corruption of the English language. I’m a terrier at heart I guess. It’s a wonder I still have friends, my cat still likes me. I love Adam’s drawing, how wonderful for you to make these small discoveries. Looking forward to your wonderful take on the Lost Lending Library. If there is anything we need now besides a tummy rub and a chin scratch it is whimsy, a short distraction from all that is rotten at the moment. Keep up the excellent work Vivian. Your blog posts are never too long, sorry Top Cat, unless you are waiting for a g&t or breakfast. ha ha.

  2. As I read your blog I nodded my head in agreement. Yes, yes, yes. Our language is falling on hard times when a few current catch phrases take the place of well chosen words. I cringe whenever I hear “cool”, “like” etc. And if i hear the word “amazing” one more time….I will scream. So thank you for bringing this up in your post.

    The Lost Lending Library sounds fascinating. What a creative concept! One day I hope to visit your bookstore. I never met a bookstore I didn’t love.

    Hugs to Taffy.

  3. There can never be too much Taffy.

    I love finding things tucked into books. On my last shift, I found a postcard from Russia, some museum admission tickets from Greece, and a playing card (a joker). I love fun inscriptions, too. I need to start a collection.

    I am tired of hearing/seeing “moving forward”, which occurs in every newscast. I agree that wimpy qualifiers should be stricken from the language. It’s sort of really, like, totally annoying, you know?

  4. Oh, I LOVE the cow. What a great find! And signed, no less! I hope you hung it in the bookstore somewhere? I remember my friends going to Williamsburg when I was a kid, but I never went — was never much interested.

    “Sort of” is definitely overused, although I use it too — probably too much — so I can’t really hop on your bandwagon! I also overuse “a bit” and “really” and “of course” and “certainly.” And probably others. But at least I am self-aware. Sort of.

  5. I have now gone through the manuscript for “Bingeworthy British Television” and taken out the several instances of “sort of” I was horrified to find I had written, so they will not be there in new printings. Although I did leave one instance of it in, because I had used quotes around it and that seemed better, you know, sort of.

    I had to do it.

    Thank you for my weekly Dose of Liquid Napping Taffy. It’s amazing how much Taffy helps my mental health.

    I have a second grader who uses “dude” for every other word. I have so many other battles to fight with my second grader that I often let it go, but, as I am not a dude, I continue to draw the line at being addressed as such.

  6. Adrienne

    Sort of, kind of (same thing…) faintly, vaguely… I think they’re all bad. People are afraid of actually “committing” to saying something!
    And I’m not much of a Meghan Markle fan, but I think you mean the Duchess of Sussex? Or maybe there is another Meghan…

  7. Pat

    I love reading your observations on the world but I do take issue with Colonial Williamsburg being totally fake bacause at one end of DOG Street is The College of William and Mary—-NOT fake and well worth a visit. Pat Class of ‘71

  8. Ummm, like, I think I sort of, like, get what you mean. Kinda like, well, it’s sort of overused, isn’t it? Like my other fave overused word, “aMAZing.” I counted six times a talk show host used that in her intro and stopped watching the show, which I wasn’t really watching anyway, it was, just, you know, sort of on at the time. UGH! (And don’t start me on turning words into verbs or something else they aren’t. If I hear gifted one more time that doesn’t also mention an extremely talented individual I might throw something.)

    But I would never throw anything at Taffy. Lovely, happy, divinely content Taffy. You know I don’t come just for Taffy, but a Taffy day is a better one!

  9. Patricia Hall

    How did I ever manage to grow up without ever knowing about the Lost Lending Library? I cannot wait to see what you create with this as inspiration. I envy every child who finds their way inside. Magic!

    And thank you for sending photos of birds watching/stalking cats instead of the other way around.

  10. Kirra

    I agree, sort of and lyrically are over used. Thank you for your very clear examples proving it, and in places I would not expect it to be used.

    As always I love the Taffy and used bookstore updates. Interested to see your take on the lending library. I’ve said it before, your blogs are never too long!

  11. Adrienne

    Sort of, kind of (same thing…) vaguely, they’re all bad! People are afraid to actually commit to a statement.
    I’m not the biggest fan of Meghan Markle, but I think you mean the Duchess of Sussex (unless there’s another Meghan?)

  12. I particularly, sort of really like Taffy. but those people in DC is really just don’t like, not even sort of!
    What fun to see the books you get in your used book store. I could go for some, but will skip Williamsburg. I think I already have it in my collection some where on the book shelf. At least I sort of think I do.

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