There are plenty of internet search hits for "filler" words, and how not to use them. I'm not asking about these.

I would like to know if there is a name for language that people use which perhaps: aim to soften the sentence, make the sentence less formal, or are used subconsciously due to lack of confidence in what is being said / self confidence of the communicator.

Some examples:

  • "Just" when not used instead of "only": "I just thought you'd like to be reminded of your meeting"
  • "lol"/"haha" equivalents: "I like how you looked today haha"
  • Sentences that don't get to the point: "I was wondering when you would be able to look at my report" vs "When will you be able to look at my report?"

Possibly these are all instances of beating around the bush. But it feels like there could be a more precise definition for these cases as what needs to be said is being said.

  • You're conflating different issues. Hedging is the answer to '[an] aim to soften the sentence, make the sentence less formal[/blunt]', whereas the habitual or near habitual use of hesitation fillers like 'you know', 'errm' is a form of speech disfluency. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 29 at 15:47
  • I don't believe I am. Hedging is used in a situation where there is uncertainty in what is being stated (I don't believe it applies to questions): "I think you'll like this" vs "You will like this". I'm talking about "hedging" the writer's internal perception of how the reader will perceive them. Perhaps this is also called hedging, but these are clearly different concepts. As for "you know" and "errm" I stated at the beginning that i'm not asking about these types of words. Therefore I am clearly not conflating different ideas. How do I vote to reopen? – Griffin Mar 29 at 16:29
  • Generally, when a question is closed as a duplicate, you should edit the question to clarify why it's different than the target (as you did in the comment). Editing the question will cause it to go to the reopen queue where other users can then vote to reopen the question. – cigien Mar 29 at 16:36
  • Yes, 'hedging' has this sense. Look at my comment (' "I was wondering if I could / might borrow your car(?)" sounds quite standard and unsurprising; it is a 'hedged' (less abrasive) form of "Can I borrow your car?" 'Could you please just shut the window' contains three hedging devices – politeness pragmatic markers please and just, and the modal usage. 'Shut the window' and especially 'SHUT THE XXXX WINDOW!' are unhedged variants.') and John Lawler's answer here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 29 at 16:41
  • For your three bullets I see the first as hedging, the second as sarcasm and the third as being polite. – Jim Mar 29 at 17:41

I would describe the language as ingratiatory

  • To bring (oneself, for example) into the favor or good graces of another, especially by deliberate effort
  • pleasingly persuasive or intended to persuade
  • calculated to please or gain favor

This kind of language is not used when the speaker necessarily lacks self-confidence, but rather wants to give the impression that they do. This is done intentionally more than subconsciously.

Related words that could be used are mollifying and emollient, both of which roughly describe language that is intended to "soften the blow" on the listener, by trying to be less confrontational or authoritative.

  • This answer telescopes an otherwise broad question, possibly admitting of an all-encompassing word, into a narrow one— and your suggestion doesn't capture the essence of the question fully @cigien. – user405662 Mar 29 at 16:37
  • @user405662 I'm not sure that the word is narrow. I would personally use it to describe the language used in the 3 examples in the OP. There may very well be other better words, of course. Could you clarify which aspect of the question the answer fails to cover? – cigien Mar 29 at 16:40
  • What makes you think the tone of the questions 1 and 3, for instance, is "ingratiatory"? They could be construed as normal questions, absenting context @cigien. – user405662 Mar 29 at 16:48
  • 1
    @user405662 They are normal questions, but the tone (especially of #3) does strike me as somewhat ingratiatory. e.g. that's not how I would speak most of the time, but that's the phrasing I try to use when communicating on SE, and the intent is very much to make what I'm saying as palatable as possible. – cigien Mar 29 at 17:15

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.