Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Words in the Making: Kinda

I occasionally receive an e-mail telling me of an exciting new word that the writer has invented and asking how someone goes about getting a word in the dictionary. Once, when I explained that dictionaries generally contain words that are widely used already, I was asked how someone goes about getting his word widely used.

I am surprised at people who think words are properties traded about like books. A dictionary, of course, is a sampling of the words in a language picked out by a single compiler or a committee put together by a publisher. The words are already there.

From time to time henceforth I will examine a word that seems to be coming into being, beginning today with kinda. I think it is time we begin spelling this phrase as a single word even though its origin is the phrase “kind of”. A regional politician was quoted as saying, “…we’re all kind of in the same boat,” in this morning’s Sunbury Daily Item. I had problems digesting “of in” not to mention “all kind” rather than “all kinds”.

Obviously, we cannot analyze “kind of”; it has long since been an idiomatic phrase that must be taken as a whole. As a whole, the phrase means “rather, somewhat”, a meaning wholly unrelated to either kind or of.

But then I would be willing to bet good money (which today excludes dollars) that the congressman didn’t say “kind of” at all but “kinda”. If I am right, the reason he said “kinda” and not “kind of” is because kinda has already become an independent adverb.

Notice that kinda has all the adverbial functions, modifying verbs (She kinda drank too much), adjectives (She looked kinda green), and other adverbs (She toppled over kinda awkwardly). You cannot make an adverb (*kindaly) or noun (*kindaness) out of it. (The asterisk is a linguistic symbol for words that don’t exist.)

So, it may be time to stop thinking of kinda as a misspelling and accept it as what it has become: an independent adverb. It then would have reached the state that friend-like reached when it began being written friendly. It is a normal transition that is going on all the time in languages and passes unnoticed in languages without writing systems. Once words are written though, problems arise since human (writing) habits change even more slowly than do languages.

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