I’ve been on a binge of detective fiction lately, catching up on Michael Connelly’s back catalogue. His L.A.-based crime novels are a good source of police jargon, slang, and abbreviations, but it was a different type of linguistic item that caught my eye this time.
In The Concrete Blonde, a news reporter tells the protagonist, Harry Bosch, that he ‘kind’ve liked’ someone. Bosch himself, in Trunk Music, describes an occurrence as ‘Kind’ve a freaky thing.’ The contraction ’ve is short for have, commonly seen in words like I’ve and you’ve. But kind’ve obviously doesn’t mean kind have. So what’s that ’ve doing there?
You can kind of see why Connelly might have used the spelling kind’ve, even if you don’t approve of it. It’s pronounced identically to the standard phrase kind of, at least when the vowel sound in of is unstressed – that is, a schwa. Macmillan Dictionary defines kind of as a phrase ‘used when you are talking about someone or something in a general way without being very exact or definite’. It labels it as ‘spoken’, indicating its informality: you wouldn’t include it in a scholarly essay, for example. Register aside, though, it’s the standard spelling.
I’ve seen non-standard kind’ve in published prose before, albeit only in detective fiction so far: Connelly again, and also Robert Crais. It seems unlikely these capable authors (and their editors) are unaware of the issue and assume kind’ve is formally correct. Rather, I imagine they know the spelling is improper but are using it in dialogue for effect – something writers have always done. The phrase kind of is already colloquial, and spelling it unconventionally may mark the casual speech patterns of a character or place.
If I were editing such material, I would tend to change it to kind of, or kinda, or at least recommend such a change. I think whatever slight phonetic difference might exist between kind of and kind’ve is not worth the distraction and annoyance it will cause a significant number of readers.
When I wrote about kind’ve on my own blog, a couple of commenters defended it, with one going so far as to say he loved it (at least in the particular context of hard-boiled detective fiction). So I know that not everyone shares my misgivings – though going by the other comments, a greater number do. That said, in the intervening months I’ve kind’ve gotten used to it. How about you?Email this Post
That’s really interesting, Stan. I had never come across this contraction before, so I’ll be looking out for it now.. As you said in the post on your own site, it’s kind’ve of a mirror image of the well-known “could of” and “should of” problem.
About 20 years ago, I was involved in developing the spoken part of the British National Corpus. This includes 10 million words of spoken material, much of it spontaneous conversations recorded by volunteers. One of the big (and not entirely resolved) issues was how best to transcribe speech, e.g. whether to use conventions like “gonna” or “wanna”. The fact is that in natural speech people rarely enunciate “going to” as it is spelled, but on the other hand, that is what they are saying, and it causes retrieval problems if this is sometimes transcribed as “gonna”, and sometimes as “going to” (e.g. if you want to get frequency counts). Needless to say, there are plenty of academic papers on these issues. I suppose novelists face the same dilemma – they want to reproduce the sounds of speech authentically, but some will baulk at going as far as kind’ve or could of…
That’s an interesting insight, Michael, and not one I’d thought about before. I think “going to” is often articulated properly when the speaker means to be emphatic (e.g., “Have you cleaned your room yet?” “I’m going to!”). Connelly’s Trunk Music had another non-standard spelling, similar to gonna and wanna but far more unusual, in my experience: hafta: “And we hafta work it without you.”
Things always leak out and get lost when you transcribe speech. Even ‘gonna’ is only a point along a continuum of progressive reduction – further along is /g/ plus syllabic /n/, and even then the /g/ is often formed but not released …..
One thing you’d miss if you transcribed ‘gonna’ (let’s call it that) as ‘going to’ is that the two versions alternate in ‘going to + verb’ but not generally(?) in ‘going to + noun’: *?I’m gonna the shop.
On the other hand, ‘wanna’ alternates with ‘want to’ and ‘want a’: ‘I wanna go’ could mean either ‘I want to go’ or ‘ I want a go’.
I recommend teachers to use informal texts such as comic strips and pop song lyrics, which often use spellings such as p’raps, mebbe, gonna, hafta, outta, kinda, y’know, s’pose to represent phonetically reduced forms. But, as I said in a recent post, these are only the tip of an iceberg; most words in normal speech are subject to phonetic erosion of sometimes catastrophic proportions.
Jonathan: Thanks for the helpful insights. After Michael raised this point I got to wondering about my own usage, and feel it probably varies considerably between gonna and going to, along the continuum you mention. Sometimes I drop the internal ‘g’, sometimes I don’t; sometimes to has a schwa, sometimes not, etc. You’re right about comic strips too: they’re an excellent source of informal language, and may be underrated as an educational medium.