What is it about the word “basically”? It’s positively everywhere these days. My colleagues use it at the start of every brief. Politicians use it to explain their positions and policies (and often use it several times within a single sentence). Even my daughters use it when kicking off an explanation of something amusing that happened at school.
Well, I’ve worked out why. It’s yet another indicator that our ability to concentrate is disappearing down the…down the…um. Where was I? Oh yes. We’re losing our ability to concentrate. Our attention span is becoming positively gnat-like. Every book, film and theatre review now features a “stars-out-of-five” rating, thus doing away with the need to read any of those tiresome words. And what is a tweet if not a 140-character “basically”?
We’re all so desperate to get our message across before our audience tunes us out (or starts fiddling with their mobile phones which is really irritating but that’s another story) that we feel we have to condense everything we are going to say into one sentence – or at least con our audience into believing that we’re about to. If we don’t suggest we’re going to distil our whole argument or story into 30 words or so, we’re terrified people will start looking over our shoulders for someone more interesting to talk to. Look, if you make it interesting, they’ll stick with you. I promise. So, stop saying “basically” because all it does is suggest that you’re feeling the need to dumb down and condense what you’re about to say because you think I’m not up to listening to all of it. Of course, if what you’re about to say is actually really dull, then you’re going to lose me anyway and you might as well not bother.
Novelists don’t use their first sentence to summarise their entire plot; they come up with a cracking first line that draws us in and compels us to read on (a bit like marketing headlines). Basically, this kid bumps into a convict who leaves him a lot of money in the end. Basically, it’s a road movie that ends up with someone throwing a ring into a volcano. Hmmmm…
So, to conclude, do we really need to summarize what we’re going to say before we say it? Are we really that impatient? I sincerely hope not.