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Basically – But Not Fully

An earlier post noted the frequency of the word “basically” as a discourse marker in contemporary American speech and attributed its rise to an apotropaic avoidance of assertory force. Eschewing the fallacy of the single cause forces one to look for multiple causes whenever possible, and an interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” today provided just the occasion.

Over the span of a brief conversation with the female host, the interviewee, Matthew Miller of Bloomberg Markets, studded his responses with “basically” at practically every turn, so that every sentence contained at least one such instance. A frequency approaching that of a verbal tic in the use of this word should probably be explained as a sign that the speaker wishes (subconsciously) to indicate that (much) more knowledge of the subject being spoken of lies submerged in his brain than is actually being expressed. Perhaps this reticence is simply a byproduct of the interview situation as it pertains to linguistic means, time constraints acting to limit the fullness of one’s responses.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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