If you haven’t seen this already, Lake Superior State University in Michigan has released its “Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” for the 38th year in a row.
This year’s hit list:
Kick the can down the road
YOLO (You only live once)
(For expanded descriptions and the reasons for the choices, click here.)
We all have words and phrases we like to use, often to the point of overuse. Maybe we’re not even aware we’re using them. When we’re writing, they seem to sneak into our manuscripts via our fingers, and sometimes it’s as if the brain isn’t involved at all.
Little words, like “just” and “really” and “well” are commonly listed among words that don’t add anything to the manuscript other than giving our brains time to catch up with what we’re trying to write. They’re the equivalent of the “um” in speaking. No matter how many times I tell myself to avoid overusing “just”, when I do my search during edits, I’ll find they’re popping up all over the place.
Big “fancy” words are in another category. Miasma? Effulgent? Parsimony? They’re going to jump out at a reader, and should be used sparingly, perhaps only once or twice in an entire manuscript. And, of course, the caveat that any “fancy” words are appropriate to the character, the genre, and the timeframe of the book. If you’re reading a Regency romance, the language is going to be totally different from a contemporary.
I catch a lot of repeats and ‘boring’ words when I print out my daily output and read it on the page instead of the screen. Even when I go back and improve word choices, when it comes time for my final run-through for crutch words, they’re still there. Normally, I will check for context. Is it dialogue? Does it enhance the characterization? Then, I look to see how long it’s been since the last time I used the word. (There’s that “you’re on page XXX” thing at the bottom of Word) If it’s a common word, my goal is at least 10 pages between uses. “Medium” words, maybe 30–50 pages. And those big fancy ones? If they’re truly the character speaking, and not authorial intrusion, once is enough.
What words do you overuse? What words bug you when you’re reading? And, what would you add to this year’s “banned” list?