“Does that make sense?”

…and do you really want to know?

Language is alive, a dynamically evolving and changing entity.

One of the newest expressions to gain momentum in American speech is, “Does that make sense?” The phrase is most often used by a speaker in the middle of a conversation—or a presenter in the middle of a presentation—to check whether or not the listener or audience member has understood or appreciated what the speaker has just said. Unfortunately, the expression has three negative implications:

  • Uncertainty on the part of the speaker about the accuracy or credibility of the content
  • Doubt about the ability of the audience to comprehend or appreciate the content.
  • The word, “sense,” which, by its interrogative formation, implies that the content in question is of dubious sense, or senseless, or completely nonsense.

“Does that make sense?” has become so pervasive it has taken its place among other filler words such as “I’m like…” and “I mean…” Most speakers are unaware that they are saying it, and most audiences don’t bother to think of its implications. The phrase has attained the frequency—and meaninglessness of:

  • “You know…” as if to be sure the listener is paying attention
  • “Like I said…” as if to say that the listener didn’t understand
  • “Again…” as if to say that the listener didn’t get it the first time
  • “To be honest…” as if to say the speaker was not truthful earlier

Every responsible speaker or presenter, in their well-intentioned effort to satisfy their audience, has every right to check whether their material is getting through and whether their audience is satisfied. But instead of casting negativity on the content or the audience, all a speaker has to say is:

“Do you have any questions?”