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“Of sorts” — Meaning, Context & Examples

“Of sorts” — Meaning, Context & Examples

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Psychologists have long known that people like to put things into categories. We recognize similarities in the things we see and experience, and then consider things that are alike to be part of the same class. 

Classifying things in this way is one of our most basic cognitive functions. It is a valuable tool that allows us make sense of our world.

It allows us to infer information about things we haven’t encountered before from what we know about the things we have. 

For example, categorization enables us to identify that a flower we have never come across before is a flower.

We can identify that the new thing we are seeing is a flower because it shares certain features, like petals, leaves, and a stem, with the flowers we are familiar with.

However, the world is too complicated to easily be sorted into categories.

The expression “of sorts” is a way to indicate that something you are speaking about is like something familiar, but that it does not neatly fit the specific definition of that thing.


What is the meaning of the expression “of sorts”?

The phrase “of sorts” has two related meanings. The first is “not exactly the same as the actual thing.” The second is “not as good as the actual thing.” When used in the latter way, it is often intended as a criticism.

The use of the word “sort” as a noun meaning “kind or type,” derives from the Old French sorte, which has the Latin root sortem, and means “group, class, or category of items; kind or variety of thing.” 

The expression “out of sorts”, which now means feeling slightly unwell or being in low spirits, was first used in the 1620s to mean “out of stock.” 

The expression “of sorts” began to be used around the year 1900 to mean a lesser version of the actual thing. 


The expression “of sorts” used to mean “not exactly the same as the actual thing”

There is a philosophical thought experiment in which a person tries to describe the taste of a strawberry to someone who has never tasted one. 

Think about it, it is very difficult to do! The best one can do to describe an experience to someone who has not had it, is to compare it to similar experiences that they have had. 

For example, to describe the taste of a strawberry you might say “It tastes sort of like a raspberry, but sweeter.”

Here, you are asking the person to refer to a familiar experience, and then modify it slightly based on another familiar reference point.

This is essentially what is happening when people use the expression “of sorts” to mean “not exactly the same as the actual thing.” 

If someone says, “It was a shopping mall of sorts.” the person they are speaking to will picture a shopping mall.

They will, however, be aware that something about it made it different from a typical shopping mall. 

Often when a person uses “of sorts” to mean “not exactly the same as the actual thing,” they will clarify in what way it deviates from the typical example of that thing. 

For example, they might say, “It was a shopping mall of sorts, but there were no stores, only restaurants.” 

Now, even though the person they are speaking to has never been to the place being described, they can combine the given descriptions to form a picture of what the place might be like. 


The expression “of sorts” used to mean “not as good as the actual thing”

The other, related, way that the expression “of sorts” is used, is to mean “not as good as the actual thing.”

This is usually used to refer to something of inferior quality than the typical example of the thing that it is “a sort of.” 

For example, if describing a particularly bad coffee, one might say, “I had a coffee of sorts at a café this morning, but it was so terribly bitter that I couldn’t drink it.” 

When used in this way, “of sorts” is often intended as a criticism of a person, institution, or thing. 

For example, if you say, “She is a composer of sorts,” the person you are speaking to will likely assume that the person you are speaking about is not a serious, or very good, composer. 

If you say, “I was given a gift of sorts,” people will tend to assume it was not a very good gift. 


8 examples of how to use “of sorts” to mean “not exactly the same as the actual thing”


She was served a beer of sorts, though Alisa later realized that it was made of fermented fruit and therefore was more like a cider than a traditional ale. 


She was wearing a dress of sorts, but it was sewn together between the ankles like a jumpsuit.  


In the wake of their argument, Mark held a speech of sorts, during which he told Joanna that he did not want their relationship to end. 


Even though it mostly features new characters, the book is a sequel of sorts.


I don’t want to be too sensitive, but when Alison told me I looked much better than I used to, it felt like an insult of sorts. 


Our Friday night walks have become a ritual of sorts.  


When she told me she had eaten the leftover spaghetti for lunch, it sounded like a confession of sorts. </span


By the time they had lit all the birthday candles and were carrying the cake into the dining room, the ice cream on Jonas’s plate had melted into a puddle of sorts. 


8 examples of how to use “of sorts” to mean “not as good as the actual thing” 


He managed to make a bandage of sorts out of a rag. 


I don’t think she has much real talent, but I suppose she is an artist of sorts. 


By the time Jasmine returned from the errands she had to run, Karl had managed to arrange the remaining scraps from the fridge into a cheese platter of sorts. 


It was a hotel of sorts, to be sure, but Alana had been expecting something far more luxurious. 


They were served a curry of sorts at the restaurant, though James would later describe it as “spicy water with a few floating pieces of zucchini.” 


Alan handed her a towel of sorts, though she suspected it was really just piece of fabric cut into a rectangle, and it did very little to dry her hair. 


They received an apology of sorts, but the store’s manager wouldn’t look them in the eye as he delivered it. 


Hannes gave his two weeks’ notice to his boss after she assigned him to clean out the pantry of sorts at the back of the shop that housed everything from decade-old paint to expired food.