“To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.” — George Orwell
I was critiquing a great story for a writing friend over the weekend and she mentioned something in her forwarding email about drawing attention to repetitious words. I didn’t notice any in her work, but it got me thinking about my own stories and my two favorite words ‘want’ and ‘took’. Oops, I forgot the word ‘turned’. I’m going to have to go back and check for ‘turned’ because it’s my third favorite word. These three words make a regular appearance in my first drafts and they sneak past my revising eye, too.
I also have a bunch of words listed on a sheet of paper hanging on the wall by my computer. It’s a list of overused words and ones to use sparingly. I hang it next to me in the hopes I’ll pay attention to the list and avoid the words on it or, at the very least, think about them while I revise.
My list includes the words: about, actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, truly, utterly, were. I’m sure there are others but you’ve got to start somewhere.
I decided to check my manuscript for the above-mentioned words. I used the “find and replace” options and did a search. It turns out besides the words ‘want’, ‘took’ and ‘turned’, I’m also partial to the words: just, really, kind of, almost, about, and even. The good news is I spent a scant half an hour searching for and eliminating most of those tired and weak words. In many instances I eliminated them from the sentence without any tweaking or substitutions. In end I was able to see how words like ‘just’ or ‘about’ weakened the sentence and were unnecessary and ineffective, if not downright annoying and boring.
I spent a little longer rewriting the sentences containing ‘want’ and ‘took’. I didn’t eliminate these words altogether but I put a serious dent in their usage.
Then there are those other words. Those words you hear every day and are so sick of hearing you wish you’d never have to hear them again. For example: if you’ve been ‘tweeting’ while ‘chillaxin’ consider your words ‘unfriended’ by Lake Superior State University. They’ve unfriended” 15 words and phrases and declared them “shovel-ready” for inclusion on the university’s 35th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.
I’m would like to construct my own List of Words to be Banished. They are as follows: whatever; seriously (in question form); totally, awesome, or the combined totally awesome; because and huh. May they never again be used as one-word statements or answers by anyone. Ever. Again. But maybe that’s the result of being a parent to teenagers.
How about you? Do you have a particular word you never want to hear again? Do you have a favorite word you love and use repeatedly? Do you have lists of words stuck to your wall?