I’ve been noticing bad habits snaking into my vocabulary. Not just my speech, but my writing! Certain words and phrases sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. If only they wouldn’t come out in the first place! The phrases “you know” and “I mean” are tops on my list, along with the word “actually.”
I’m reminded of a newsletter Marcia Yudkin wrote a couple of years ago, which has stuck in my memory. I republish it here in full.
brought to you every Wednesday by Marcia Yudkin
Marketing Consultant, Author, Speaker
Luckily there isn’t a Committee to Defend the Adverb. Because today, readers, I implore you: Whenever you see one in your prose, pull it over to the side and grill it about whether or not it has a legitimate reason to be there. If not, hurl it into the bushes. Stamp it into oblivion.
Intensifiers, like “really,” “very,” “extremely.” Always be suspicious of these. You inserted them to rev up your meaning, but to readers they have the opposite effect. Out!
“Actually” or “in fact.” If I’d said “to readers they actually have the opposite effect,” would I have changed my point? No. Out!
“Literally.” Almost always this word deserves squelching. To decide, apply the dictionary meaning to the next word. Is it true? “We literally exploded in laughter.” You did not explode. Out!
Bad-habit adverbs. The chaplain at a college where I once taught inserted “somehow” into every other sentence to express perplexity at the twists and turns of life. Excise such distracting mannerisms from your writing, too.
If a word does nothing or mucks up your point… Out!
Where do you stand with these words?
It’s easy for me to delete these adverbs from my clients’ statements and bios, but much harder to remove from my own text and, to be more exact, my speech. I know, however, that I’ll deliver a more powerful message with more precise writing and precise speaking.
I need to warn you, though. Once you become aware of unnecessary words and phrases, I’m afraid that you, too, will begin hearing the sound of nails scratching the chalkboard each time someone else (not you!) utters them.
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