A floating kind of thing

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Evan McMorris-Santoro, "South Carolina GOP Chair Says His State Is GOP Primary Reset Button", TPM 1/11/2012:

“Our voters are fiercely independent and pretty fickle,” [SC GOP chair Chad] Connelly told me over coffee at a downtown shop brilliantly named Immaculate Consumption. “They watch what happens in Iowa, they watch what happens in New Hampshire. They may take that under advisement kind of thing, but they’re going to make their own decisions.”

This is a lovely example of the  use of "kind of thing" as a sort of floating discourse adjunct, something that I've noticed recently here and there. It seems to be similar in force to discourse-particle like, and to more conventional phrases like "so to speak" and "as it were":

They may, like, take that under advisement, but they're going to make their own decisions.
They may take that under advisement, as it were, but . . .
They may take that under advisement, so to speak, but . . .

However, I'm not sure about the syntax of this apparently free-floating "kind of thing".

I first noticed something like this in the speech of George H.W. Bush. For example ("George H.W. Bush on 'FOX News Sunday'", 11/4/2007):

WALLACE: So you don't see Putin going back in a new Cold War?

G.H.W. BUSH: Not that much, no, not to a new Cold War. He's defining certain things that he believes in, and he's showing a concern about the old Russian view that they're trying to encircle us kind of thing.

In this case, "kind of thing" might be an adverbial adjunct ("…they're trying to encircle us, as it were") but it also might be the head of the phrase, modified by some fraction of the preceding complex noun phrase. You can see this possibility more clearly in a simplified version like this one:

… and he's showing  the old Russian paranoia thing.

which could be expanded as

… and he's showing the old Russian they're-trying-to-encircle-us thing.


… the old Russian they're-trying-to-encircle-us kind of thing.


… the old Russian-view-that-they're-trying-to-encircle-us kind of thing.

Here's another one that that's similarly ambiguous ("President George H.W. Bush Talks About his Son's Reelection Bid", PBS Newshour 9/2/2004):

George Mitchell and Kerry and all these people voted against that, and they viewed – oh, let sanctions work longer, we'll delay this, and they had, you know, rationale afterwards. To their credit, when the war started, you know, we support our troops kind of thing. I remember that very distinctly, and I think that's somewhat different than then, but they made it a partisan vote. And I think a lot of the attacks on the president are partisan attacks.

But because of President Bush's pointillistic syntax kind of thing, none of the analyses quite add up to full formal English sentences. Here's another one ("Tour of the White House", ABC Primetime, 1990):

G.H.W. BUSH: I mean, these are just pictures that we happen to have here and all through the house we have them, but His Majesty the King of Jordan and my dear friend the prime minister of Canada …
SAWYER: And famous tennis players who have played with me.
G.H.W. BUSH: Tennis players I have known and, well, upon the court with whom I've stepped. It's more that. I'm a name dropper. I love getting out there, kind of Walter Mitty, "Yes, I hit with Lendl" kind of thing, poor fellow.

The prosody might give us a clue about the syntax, so here are the audio clips for someone else who seems to use the free-floating kind of thing habitually ("Former US Marine Capt. Josh Rushing", NPR Fresh Air 2004):

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You know like they would take a quote, and I don't remember which quotes they chose, took a quote from me and they would say you know uh this wasn't said by someone from France, or a Greenpeace activist, this was by our own government spokesperson, kind of thing. And I thought, oh, man [laugh] I'm g- I'm really going to hear about this.

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Yeah, turns out to be the director of the movie, but to me at the time they were introduced through the American University at Cairo, so I- I honestly believed that it was along the lines of a student film, and I think that's one of the reasons that when the request came into our office, it- it was me, the junior guy, who ends up getting it; it- it kind of tumbled down the chain, and like alright, whatever, you do this, kind of thing

If Mr. Rushing's use is typical, this tends to argue for the discourse adjunct analysis.


  1. Henry Clay said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    The other quotes here seem natural, but the leading quote by the GOP chief doesn't seem quite right to my ears. I think you have to consider that it's simply a bad transcription of "they may take that kind of thing under advisement".

    If this is what he really said, though, to my ears it requires a comma rather than a period in the middle.

  2. LDavidH said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 8:58 am

    This must be fairly common, as I have picked it up (as an ESL speaker in England). I thought it normally referred to a whole concept or phenomenon, which seems to fit most of the quotes but not the initial one (thus agreeing with Henry Clay). But I guess it could just be the foreigner doesn't get it right kind of thing…

  3. David Denison said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    I think you're dead right: the sort of thing phrase is a kind of discourse particle. (In British English it works equally well with any of the SKT nouns – sort, kind, type.) In my work on the history of SKT nouns I've characterised it as an adverbial:

    Sort of thing is found as an adverbial hedge, usually in clause-final position:

    if he had visitors he used to send her out of the room type of thing

    But in origin it may well have started as head of an NP, premodified by some or all of a preceding NP. The reason I think it's largely been reanalysed as an adverbial is that it no longer has to be part of an NP. In my example above, type of thing is clearly commenting on a VP rather than some NP involving room. In my idiolect your first example is absolutely fine.

    [(myl) I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know about the work you cite. For those who are similarly ignorant, here are a couple of links: David Denison, "History of the sort of construction family", 2002; "The construction of SKT" (slides for a plenary lecture), 2011. What else have I missed (on this topic, I mean: ignorance is infinite)?]

  4. Lynn David Newton said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 9:26 am

    You might enjoy reading a section out of David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel "The Pale King", a section written as a transcribed monologic interview with a character portrayed as an employe of the IRS, one who dispenses his savantlike expertise on his mind-numbingly boring job function, laced about every third sentence with "kind of thing." He interrupts his flow a couple of times with questions addressed to whoever is on the other side of the camera (who never speaks) such as, "Are you all right?" when that person starts to display a twitch every time hears "kind of thing." Sorry, I can't give a page reference. I returned the book to the library when I finished reading it. As I recall, it's somewhere around the mid-point, and goes on for 10-5 pages.

    [(myl) Sample, courtesy of Google Books:

    These types of high-level proposals and white papers are generated all the time. Planning and Research has what amounts ot think tanks type of thing. This is common knowledge. Full-time teams exlcusively tasked to generating long-range students and proposals. There's a famous policy paper from a P&R group in the 1960s, type of thing, of the implementation of tax protocols following a nuclear exchange. Called "Fiscal Planning for Chaos," which became rather a famous term around here, a kind of joke when things beame hectic, chaos type of thing. Overall, few of them are made public. From the mid-sixties. Your tax dollar at work type of thing. This one that was resurrected in thie context, though, was far less grand or explosive. I don't know its precise title. Sometimes it's known as the Spackman Memo or the Spackman Initiative, but I know of no one that knows who the eponymous Spackman was, type of thing, whether he was the author of the policy paper or the P&R official for whom the thing was written.

    And so on.]

  5. James said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    I'm pretty sure I use this myself. My understanding of it is definitely as a discourse adjunct. I have also heard (but I believe I never use) "type thing", with the "of" elided. I think that might be more of the noun-phrase head… type thing. Here's one example plucked randomly from Ask.com:

    What is Yukata type thing Jeff Bridges wears in "The Door in the Floor and wear can i buy one?

    And there is a Stone Temple Pilots song with the title Sex Type Thing.

  6. peters said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    In my experience, it's more usual to hear "type thing" rather than "type of thing."

    [(myl) In general, "type NOUN" is a common variant of "type of NOUN", as discussed in "Dealing with these type situations", 6/14/2004. But in the examples covered there, the NOUN in question is still functioning as the head of a noun phrase with a conventional role in a sentence — subject, object, object of preposition, etc. What's under discussion here is the use of "kind of thing" as a discourse-particle-like adjunct. It's entirely plausible that "type of thing"/"type thing" (among other such phrases) would play a similar role, as David Denison observes in an earlier comment, and David Foster Wallace exemplifies fictionally in another one.]

  7. Rick Sprague said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    It strikes me as conveying semantics something like "I'm paraphrasing/generalizing", which might be a blend of quotative discourse-particle like and prepositional like used to indicate similarity.

    Connelly's syntax was too opaque for me, but I sense paraphrase in the other examples

    Bush 1: about the old Russian view[?,] that "they're trying to encircle us" kind of thing
    (Is that a subordinator, or could it be a demonstrative pronoun following an omitted comma? Prosody would have answered, but it was in print so we'll never know.)

    Bush 2: you know, [a] "we support our troops" kind of thing

    Bush 3 is already explicitly quoted

    Rushing 1: and they would say [some] "you know uh this wasn't said by someone from France, or a Greenpeace activist, this was by our own government spokesperson" kind of thing

    Rushing 2: and like [it would become an] "Alright, whatever, you do this" kind of thing.

    The strange syntax could just be production errors caused by interference from the embedded paraphrasings. But with enough of that in the wild, I can imagine kind of thing becoming liberated and reanalyzed as a discourse particle.

  8. dw said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    President Bush's pointillistic syntax

    A thousand points of light?

  9. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    My interpretation of this type of thing is that "he's showing a concern about the old Russian view that they're trying to encircle us kind of thing," most closely means "he showing us the kind of thing of which 'the old Russian view that they're trying to encircle us' is an instance." Of course, we are left wondering what the set comprises; what else is in the set.

  10. Ø said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    I've heard examples of the kind ("if he had visitors he used to send her out of the room type of thing") mentioned by David Denison, and I think of them as British, especially if it's "sort" rather than "type".

    I was imagining that the character Everton on the BBC sitcom Chef might have used these words this way, and sure enough, from a website of favorite Chef quotes:

    Lucinda: Everton, I'm the sous chef, do you know what that means?
    Everton Stonehead: It means you're the second in command, sorta thing.

  11. Peter said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    I agree with Mr Fortner. The phrase "kind of thing" seems to have just dropped "that" in front of it. Just about everything seems to make sense (to me), if I read "[that] kind of thing" to mean "and the like" or "in that vein" (basically, other alternatives that are closely related to what the "kind of thing" is associated with), which (again to me) is more specific than just "so to speak" or "as it were".

    "They may take that under advisement [or a similar activity], but they’re going to make their own decisions."

    "he's showing a concern about the old Russian view that they're trying to encircle us [or a similar concern]"

    "To their credit, when the war started, you know, [they expressed sentiments like] we support our troops [or similar sentiments]."

    "…took a quote from me and they would say you know uh this wasn't said by someone from France, or a Greenpeace activist, this was by our own government spokesperson, [or some similar attack]."

    So it's more of a sentiment of "I've got more examples, but you know what I mean…"

  12. Trimegistus said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

    There's a Tom Wolfe article about the sexual revolution in the 1970s which features this as college girl speech. At one point he quotes a student saying "go to the library sort of thing" and then riffs off it in his own text for the rest of the piece.

  13. Rodger C said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    As the Britons said to Asterix, "Bonne chance, et toute cette sorte de chose."

  14. fs said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

    A similar construct exists in Japanese, I believe, where みたいな or sometimes ような (both meaning "type of", more or less) is tacked onto the end of a sentence as a discourse particle.

  15. Peter said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

    "I'm in a New York state of mind." Similar construct?

    [(myl) I don't think so. "I'm in a New York state of mind" is a metaphorical locative construction involving a form of "to be" with a prepositional phrase (as in "I'm in a good mood"). A proper noun ("New York") is used as a modifier (as in "the Washington establishment") of a NOUN of NOUN structure ("state of mind") of a common kind (like "rate of change" or "time of day" or "plan of attack" or whatever).

    In other words, this is common garden-variety syntax, symantics, and pragmatics. It's entirely consistent with the norms of formal written English. The woods are full of 'em, as my second-year Latin teacher used to say about ablative absolutes and the like.

    The construction under discussion here ("kind of thing", "type of thing", etc.) involves a determinerless nominal fragment that is apparently used as an adverbial adjunct, which is meant to blur the meaning of some part of the larger phrase that it's placed in, or at least to encourage the listener to interpret things in a broader frame.

    This is not standard English syntax — such adverbial adjuncts are usually adverbs ("clearly", "more or less") or prepositional phrases ("of course", "in a sense") or clauses ("it seems", "as it were").

    And the construction is now only used in speech or in writing intended to imitate the style of speech. If you used it in a newspaper Op-Ed, a copy editor would probably correct it.]

  16. Garrett Wollman said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

    It seem to me that, as this is normally seen only in spoken language, at least some of the transcriptions are missing internal quotation marks that would ordinarily be written out in edited writing; "'They're trying to encircle us' kind of thing" and so on.

  17. Russell said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

    Many of the cited examples seem to involve, directly or not, speech or attitudes attributed to someone else. So that makes it plausible that we have "SKT of thing" as head, modified by a quoted or metalinguistic element. Or, at least, that it's a plausible source of the discourse adjunct use, which still retains the frequency bias from the source context. On the other hand, that analysis implies a certain level of planning on the speaker's part, that they are producing some stretch of talk for the purpose of quoting or clumping it together and then SKT-ifying it.

    Not to say that such things can't be "redone" on the fly. For example, I would wager that some instances of right-node raising (in speech) are planned, whereas others are the result of afterthoughts and an implicit reorganization of the syntax of the current utterance.

  18. Kenny said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

    One of my friends in college almost constantly uses "kind of thing", though I'm pretty sure there's always a determiner (that, the, or a/an). She'll put almost anything between the determiner and the "kind of thing", whether its a noun phrase or a sentence.

    Ex.:It was an I'm-gonna-do-this-even-if it-kills-me kind of thing.
    The way she says it, there's no pause between "me" and "kind".

    I'd never seen it without determiners until today, and all of those examples seem ungrammatical to me (but perfectly understandable). It seems to me that an adverbial use could pretty easily develop from dropping "It is/was a" or "that" from in front of "kind of thing" in side-comments and afterthoughts.

    I can't say for certain since I'm not a native speaker and my books don't have an entry to check, but the ような(you na) construction you're talking about always seemed to me to be a clearly elliptical statement that omits 気がする (ki ga suru), or some similar phrase with a noun. It's sort of like how とは (to wa) often finishes a statement, because the verb (nearly always 思わなかった [omowanakatta]) is unambiguously implied. Also, every time I heard it, it was used twice with a strong pause or with the na dragged out at the end.

    Example: 見たような、見ていないような。(Mita you na, miteinai you na.)
    Intended meaning: I get a feeling like I've seen him, but also like I haven't seen him.
    The speaker is usually unsure of the two possibilities, but sometimes it's intentional deception.

  19. eeden said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

    In my family, we use "kind of thing" (or "kinda thing") and "sort of thing" (or "sorta thing") as a stand-alone phrase for general agreement. As in, "You know when you're walking around uptown, and someone walking in front of you just stops?" "you mean like when someone walks out of a shop and just stops?" "Kinda thing".

  20. Peter said,

    January 12, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

    @eeden, it seems like your family's just dropped the "Yes, that…" before the "kinda thing". What's interesting is that the response could have been shortened the other way. I know people who would just say "that" in response, cutting away the "kinda thing" part, like:

    "You know when you're walking around uptown, and someone walking in front of you just stops?" "you mean like when someone walks out of a shop and just stops?" "That."

  21. Joyce Melton said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    Ellipsis as meta-language evolution kind of thing?

  22. fs said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    @Kenny: Yes, you're right – ~ような、~ないような is indeed as you describe. Another similar construction is ~かったり、~なかったり. However ~みたいな。 is different, and very similar to "~ kind of thing." There is also no paired ~ないみたいな. It's a different construction.

  23. David Perry said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    I do not remember EVER having heard or read this use of the expression before. It's entirely new to me. I've lived in New York; Washington, D.C.; Rhode Island; and Vermont in the past fifteen years. is it southern or western?

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    From what David Denison said above, it seems to be more familiar in Britain. I don't remember hearing it either, but obviously it shows up sporadically in America.

  25. HP said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    One issue I run into, both as a writer and a speaker, is when I want "X kind|sort|type of Y" to refer to "an instance or subclass X of class Y," but colloquial speech doesn't distinguish this from "X is similar to or reminiscent of but not the quite the same as Y."

    Informally, I use kinda/sorta for the latter case, and "kind of" for the former, but that option isn't available in formal text.

    I could easily distinguish instances and classes symbolically, but that's not always an option, and I've yet to find a repeatable, consistent phrase that distinguishes between instance/class and exemplar/type.

    NB: I'm a technical writer often charged with explaining database clients to users who have no interest or need to know about relational database architecture.

    Has anybody here ever worked this out, especially in a heavily localized type of writing thing?

  26. HP said,

    January 13, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    I just realized my previous post is totally abstract and incomprehensible. Here's an example, optimized for the Internet:

    – Cats are a kind of carnivore.
    – Cats are kind of cute.

    Does this sort of* English translate well?

    * See what I did there?

  27. John Swindle said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 12:13 am

    Sure, "kind of thing" is like the discourse particle "like," but does that really make it mean "so to speak" or "as it were"?

    For me (American living in Hawaii) "so to speak" and "as it were" both include among their meanings "Don't blame me for what I just said" and "See what a cute pun I just made?" Those meanings aren't available for "kind of thing." "Kind of thing" feels more like "or something" or "and so on," meaning that whatever preceded it was an example that either wasn't intended to be precise or wasn't intended to be exhaustive.

  28. Kenny said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 3:30 am

    Since my memory in Japanese is not quite as good as my memory in English, I'm not sure about how I've heard みたいな, but I would speculate/posit that both みたいな and ような have the possibility to be non-paired but that it would still be an elliptical statement where もの or some other noun explicit from the context has been dropped. If no noun is understood to be there, then ような and みたいな would have to be understood to be ようだな and みたいだな respectively.

    I think it would be difficult to tell whether the Japanese structures are the same kind of innovation/ same "part of speech" as determinerless "kind of thing", since Japanese doesn't have determiners or relative pronouns to disambiguate whether the phrases have been lifted from the normal syntax of the sentence. In other words, I think the similarity is a quirk of Japanese's left-branching sytax.

    Let's take the English sentence "They may take that under advisement kind of thing" and try to make a Japanese example out of it." To me it seems that the scope of "kind of thing" is over "take that under advisement". They may (in the sense of "might") do something like take that under advisement. In Japanese, the みたいな would have to come between the verb for "take under advisement" and the かもしれない (ka mo shirenai) to indicate might. Preferably there would be no noun after みたいな, since that would indicate that the phrase had left garden-variety syntax. So something like this:
    kangaete oku mitai na ka mo shirenai.

    kangaete oku mitai na suru ka mo.

    Neither of those seems acceptable, and I've never been exposed to sentences like those.

  29. Ted said,

    January 18, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

    I agree that it's an elision; the question is, what's elided?

    I read the original quotation as semantically equivalent to:

    They watch what happens in Iowa, they watch what happens in New Hampshire. [But what happens in Iowa or New Hampshire doesn't necessarily determine what will happen in South Carolina. It's not a they-will-make-their-decisions-on-that-basis kind of thing; rather, it's a] they-may-take-that-under-advisement kind of thing.

    If that's what the speaker had said, the use of "kind of thing" would have been unremarkable. In analyzing what he actually said, though, "discourse particle" does seem to be a useful way to think about it.

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