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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 11-Nov-12


Sunday 11-Nov-12


The other day my wife and I were staying with my sister and were talking over the dinner table and I noticed that my wife was frequently using the word 'Basically' as a prefix to statements. Then I noticed that I was doing it too.

So what is it all about? Why add 'Basically' to the start of a sentence when it adds nothing to the content.

In later conversation, we concluded that it was 'teacher-speak'. My wife was a teacher for many years. I also taught but only for a couple of years before going into business, where I had many roles in supporting and consulting with others. In both cases, we had a need for others to really understand what we were saying, rather than superficially accepting it.

If the people you are talking with start out thinking that the subject is complex, then they will be less likely to believe they will understand you, and may hence create a self-fulfilling prophesy whereby their belief that they will not understand leads them to not understanding. A way we try to overcome this tendency is to signal to the other person that what we are about to say is not complex, and one way we do this is to start the sentence with 'Basically, ...'. In a teaching or persuading situation this may be appropriate, but there is a potential problem in its use.

When you start a sentence with 'Basically', you are also saying 'I am expert. You will not understand if I explain fully, so I will make it simple, because you are simple.' Which of course can be quite insulting. Yet it is a common enough wording, so people may not know they are being insulted, though they may still feel a certain discomfort when listening to you. And perhaps get defensive or feel that somehow they do not like your company so much.

Basically, it seems, we need to stop doing this.

Your comments

Basically, I come to this site for ideas for my English class. It's basically a class in which I engage in conversation with learners of the English language. The topics range from the basic to the complex, but I work to make all of them as interesting as possible.
I put basically at the start of this comment because I often here it used in this way, though, what is to follow is in no way a complex idea, and is, pretty much, the only way that the idea can be expressed. I have made it a personal rule that I will use this word only when I think that it should be used, as, probably, many other people do, but there are those that seem to use it indiscriminately.
This is a wonderful site, and it has inspired in me many a topic for discussion in my class. Thank you.

-- Sean I.

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