Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Is Your Speech Weak? Or Courteous?

with 8 comments

In a recent article I found on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, the author argues for women ridding their speech of “hedges.”

Hedges are those little apologetic words and phrases we insert into our speech. For example:

  • I’m sorry, but
  • Well, actually, I think …
  • In my humble opinion …

The idea is that these little apologies soften your speech and indicate a low level of confidence. And while the article specifically talks to women (it originally appeared in Redbook), this is something men should take note of, as well.

But my question is this: are hedge words actually bad?

Does hedging your speech actually give an appearance of weakness? Or instead, does it indicate a respect for the other speakers and offer some courtesy to help society run a little more smoothly?

  • This article (the one I referenced above) advocates giving the ax to hedge words and putting more strength into your speech.
  • This article from the Macmillan Dictionary Blog suggests that hedge words may be pretty vital to communication and us all getting along.

Personally, I think it’s a matter of degree. We all know some über-hedging folks who seem to apologize even as they order their lunch. But then there are others who wouldn’t notice a hedge word if it kicked them in the teeth because they’re stubbornly barreling through conversations heedless and disrespectful of anyone around them.

So I’d suggest moderating your hedges. You needn’t preface every idea you have with “This may sound dumb, but …” And at the same time, no one likes it when people bully their way over everyone else’s ideas like Genghis Khan.

Be firm, be confident, and be polite. And just as importantly – be aware of how you speak. Knowing to what degree you use hedge words will go a long way toward projecting the image you want through your speech.

What do you think? Keep the hedge words? Or ditch ’em for stronger language?

Written by Nathanael Green

July 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Great post as always. What do you think about cultural differences and hedging? Japanese culture seems to value politeness, so there’s a lot more hedging involved. Do Americans appear rude to English-speaking Japanese tourists?

    What’s the deal with THAT?

    Nick Hughes

    July 30, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    • That’s a great point, Nick. Hedging can certainly be a cultural phenomenon, even among native English speakers.

      My Japanese is extremely rusty, even though I did study it in college, and I remember there being a lot of emphasis on what might be considered hedging. Though of course, to them, it’s simply being polite and respectful.

      It’d be an interesting study to compare the differences and perceptions. Are there Japanese speakers who hedge even more than their counterparts and then seem apologetic? Or is hedging not really an issue in their culture?

      Nathanael Green

      August 1, 2009 at 11:15 am

  2. There is a type of English person–it may be a certain class, but as an American, I can’t really tell that–who say thank you in every other phrase. It’s not very typical in sales transactions in my everyday experience, but I’ve come across it a bit when I’m working the cash register. Yes, it’s possible for it to be taken too far, but on balance, it’s really rather nice for a salesperson to be thanked too much rather than too little. And it doesn’t come across as obsequious, it really just seems to radiate a greater awareness of what’s going on. Not that they would have to thank you, but just that they understand that they are not the sole occupant of the universe.


    July 31, 2009 at 1:29 am

    • Seana, I agree. Not hedging your speech at all is often an indicator of egocentricity, or at least an unawareness of other people. Simply, they’re just rude.

      Taking the time to consider other people and show a tad of respect goes a long way, and I think a little hedging helps with that. Especially saying please and thank you, and I don’t think either of those shows any lack of self confidence.

      Nathanael Green

      August 1, 2009 at 11:19 am

  3. “So I’d suggest moderating your hedges. ”

    I’m amazed at your strength of will. Lesser men would have given in and written “trimming your hedges”, but you managed to end your article in punless fashion.


    August 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    • Lesser women too.


      August 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    • Marco,

      Don’t get too crazy with the praise – you never know when I’ll cave to the temptation, and then it’s just going to be a storm of puns.

      Nathanael Green

      August 4, 2009 at 8:03 pm

  4. Marco –

    I’ll bet Nate considered it, but unlike me, thought better of it.

    Brian O'Rourke

    August 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm

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