There are exceptions, though. Sort of can be a synonym of type of, and it’s also useful for signaling that what follows is not to be taken literally. And of course, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with hedging a direct statement, such as when the speaker feels ambivalent about what he or she is saying.
In the following cases, sort of is somewhat justifiable because its hedging is useful either to blunt something harsh or to signal that what follows is not exactly true:
For modern-day residents and business owners in the same waterfront area, Hoboken has become a sort of hell. [The Star-Ledger]
I slept in the field, in a sort of wooden tent covered in tarps and heated by a small wood stove. [Montreal Gazette]
And there’s nothing wrong with using sort of as a synonym of type of, as these writers do:
So what sort of punishment do you think they got, in those pre-asbo days? [The Guardian]
But equally, it produced the sort of frenzy that will rob them of sleep if they end up on the wrong side. [Financial Times]
This use of sort of is especially common in British writing.