The use of a hedge is a particularly British phenomenon. We love it. And I don’t mean a row of bushes at the bottom of your garden; although we do like those too!
You may be familiar with the term, ‘hedge your bets’. This is where you protect yourself from loss by supporting more than one possible result. In a horse race, for example, instead of betting on one horse to win, you would bet on the top three favourites. Diluting your bet but increasing your chance for some return. Similarly, in language, a hedge is a word or phrase that makes what you say less strong, leaving room for other possibilities. Like your bet, it dilutes your sentence to make it more palatable for the other often limiting the scope of what you said or by making it less direct. We use them all the time.
I feel as if, maybe, possibly, we could, perhaps, stop using them, sort of?
Now, sometimes, they really do have a part to play in language and life. If we are unsure of our position or unclear on something then hedges have their place but they can quickly creep into our speech where they don’t belong.
The other day, I was at a cafe getting a takeaway coffee. After taking and making my order the girl said, ‘I think that’s on’ as she applied the lid to the cup and slid it across the counter to me. Why hedge? We both knew the lid was on properly. Firstly, it’s her job and she must do it hundreds of times during a shift. Secondly, it’s a rather simple task and she looked to be a resourceful young lady. Finally, we both watched her do it. The lid was precisely and professionally applied to my cup and we both knew it. The tendency to hedge can be very powerful indeed.
It can come from a wide range of emotions. If we are nervous, shy, or a little insecure, we can end up hedging. When intimidated or forced to second guess ourselves, we can end up hedging. More often than not, it starts as one – or a combination – of one of those emotions but ends up just becoming a pattern of speech for us. We prefer, after a while, to remain vague and caution rather than definitive and direct. We can use hedging to avoid conflict – by weakening/softening our position – or to avoid responsibility. By introducing just enough doubt or hesitancy in our language we can pass off the responsibility for what we say. Gossip, lies, slander, and backbiting all need hedges to survive.
‘I heard Cathy doesn’t like cats’
‘It could be because his mum is in prison’
‘It’s usually because their late’
Journalists do this all the time. When there is no story, they can make one by hedging with uncertain information.
This is not what we are called to.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, ‘Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.’ In context, he is talking about making oaths and swearing on things but it applies to our hedges too. In other words, he is saying, ‘stop swearing on your hamster’s life and just say yes or no.’ Be simple, be direct. Cut your hedges. Stop qualifying everything you say with maybes and mights. Be clear, be humble, but be confident in what you are saying. Don’t gossip. Say only what needs to be said and say it plainly and clearly.
This week, pay attention to how you speak. Try to notice when you use hedges and understand why. When you catch yourself, apologise, take a moment, and say what you want to say again but plainly and simply. Or, if you realise it actually doesn’t need to be said, just stay quiet.
Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Cut your hedges.