Discourse markers: When saying ‘a bit’ can mean a lot

Isabelle Burke writes “a bit” is a discourse marker – one of those hard-working little linguistic scraps like “you know” or “I mean”, which help manage the flow of discourse, perhaps through interpersonal work, or signposting the structure of a conversation. There’s “a little bit of a car accident”, “a bit of a headache”, “a bit of a blood clot”, and even a plane crash described as “a bit of a frightening experience”. Hedges such as “a bit” are an integral part of our everyday conversational routines surrounding ill health or misfortune. But funnily enough, Australian speakers do not only mitigate overtly negative statements, but even seemingly positive ones. For instance, our data reveals examples such as calling someone “a bit of a local hero”, and plenty of instances of “a bit of a legend”. Tall poppy syndrome means the issuing of compliments can be a fraught business – in fact, in need of mitigation! For more, see https://lens.monash.edu/2022/09/14/1385080.

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