In my last blog, I mentioned that people keep sending me things about words. One that I really enjoy is 10 Words to Cut From Your Writing from entrepreneur.com. This blog on copy writing tips really appealed to the editor in me – maybe because people frequently come to me to reduce their word count.
Now, deleting individual words in hopes of making a significant dent in word count is like trying to prevent a flood with an eyedropper – not very effective. But I’m digressing – again.
Anyway, the Taboo 10 are:
- Perhaps, and it’s sibling Maybe
(Put that in a different order and you get the verbal onslaught of a Valley Girl.)
There are two common issues with these words; they are either 1) useless filler, or 2) meaningless.
Remember, people read differently than they hear. The words “really” and “very” provide verbal emphasis that generally does not translate into writing. If you’re looking to add emphasis, there are so many adjectives and adverbs that do a much more evocative job. What’s better, “I was really sick” or “I was violently ill”? And if you did not actually violently ill, why not just write, “I was sick.”
The only time “literally” has a use is when you want people to understand that you are not speaking in exaggerating or joking terms. Otherwise, it is redundant – and you said it already.
A word is meaningless in writing when it is too vague or used too much.
Let’s start with “stuff” and “things.” Save your reader from wondering “what stuff? what things?” and just tell them!
Another way a word becomes vague is when it means too many different things. While everybody may know what “got” means in context, why not take advantage of your vocabulary and use the word you mean? When you “got out of bed” this morning, did you spring, slide, slither, fall, or leap?
“Amazing” is a great example of an over-used word. As they say, “How can something be amazing if everything is?” You can also make “amazing” meaningless by only using it do describe things that are special. The thesaurus is a beautiful thing, use it without fear.
This makes the list because uncertainty in writing can be deadly. One of the primary points of writing is to convince someone of something. Why would anyone be convinced if you express doubt yourself?
In the case of explanatory writing, I’m totally on board. However, if your argument is to cause reasonable doubt, then I find that “maybe” and “perhaps” inspire thinking out of the box.