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I came across the phrase, kind of sums things up in the article written by Dana Milbank in Washington Post (July 20) under the headline The new party of Reagan.

The phrase appears in the following remark of the House Democrats, caucus chairman John Larson.

“The Congress’ brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.”

Kind of sums things up,” Larson said, playing the same clip again at a news conference."

I also found a similar usage of kind of sums things up in the quote of Unambig.com.

This kind of sums it up for me. Are we still counting silly things like carbon footprints and measuring every theoretical cloud of carbon and methane created by existing and breathing on this planet.”

What does kind of sums things up, mean? I have no idea. Is it a popular English phrase?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

An "incomplete summary" (or "partial summary") with a possible negative tone ("Kind of" means "incompletely" and "sums things up" means "summarizes [the topic at hand]"); to me, there seems to be a dissatisfied tone implied by the comment (that the summary is incomplete) that is also bundled with an expectation that the summary could have (or should have) been better somehow.

Regarding popularity, this isn't a phrase that I recall hearing or reading anywhere (although it's not entirely unfamiliar), so I don't consider it to be popular (I'm in Western Canada; there may be other places where this phrase enjoys frequent usage).

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Yes, it is popular. "Sum X up" means "Summarize X". "Kind of" means "almost", "weakly", or "to some extent".

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As an after thought I noticed that Mr. Larson's comment means replay of President Reagan's clip sums up the U.S.financial problems of today. My confusion started from combining 'sums' and 'things' as a compound noun. A lame mistake! –  Yoichi Oishi Jul 23 '11 at 5:10
    
The two separate elements "kind of" and "sum [something] up" are popular idiomatic usages, but it doesn't really mean much to talk about the popularity of the pairing as a "phrase". Except I would say "That kinda sums you up", for example, is invariably a bitter and sardonic put-down, not a simple statement of fact. –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 '11 at 12:44
    
@Fumble Fingeres. Would you be kind enough to tell me what does ‘That kinda sums you up’ mean? Does it mean ‘You’re that kind of (stupid, sneaky, whatever) man’? I found a phrase ‘Kinda sums it up, you betcha’ in the title of an album of songs in dunbthchronicles com. Still I don’t have a clue for guessing its meaning. –  Yoichi Oishi Jul 23 '11 at 22:00
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@Yoichi Oishi: It doesn't have a specific meaning. Just that (in the speaker's opinion) something just said or done clearly illustrates a (normally negative) attribute he thinks is typical of the person he's speaking to. It could feasibly be used in respect of a positive attribute, though I think this would be quite rare. Remember a lot of things like song lyrics/titles aren't really expected to have a single accessible meaning (or indeed any meaning whatsoever). The same goes for some poetry, which may simply be evocative, not semantically clear-cut. –  FumbleFingers Jul 23 '11 at 23:58

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