Rogue Ink

June 3, 2008

Words You Use Too Much.

Filed under: Copywriting,Writing — Tei @ 7:54 am

We all have them. I know someone who says ‘you know’ whenever he needs a space filler. I know an ‘um’ guy too, and a woman who just says ‘yes yes yes’ rapidly at the beginning of every sentence. The habit of overusing a word or phrase sneaks into the written word as well as the spoken one. We’re a little more aware that we do this while speaking than while writing. Words are spread about over many different documents allow for some distance, but we are always attached to our mouths. I think. Unless science has made some spectacular leaps while I was on the plane.

The Dreaded ‘Like’

If you are under the age of 30, ‘like’ is very probably on the list of words you should expunge from your vocabulary, including situations in which ‘like’ is an appropriate word, such as “I like sea monkeys” and “Sea turtles are like non-scary viruses.” Even in these situations, stretch your limits, young twentysomethings. And you teenagers better get your shit together, or we will go right back to the dark ages where we communicated by appropriate grunts and hand gestures and facial expressions.

“And then I was like and then she was like, like, you know?” Grunt grunt grunt. It must CEASE.

Yes. I am guilty. I am trying to stop. It’s a disease. Pity the plague-ridden.

Fall-Back Words. Different from Fallback Boy.

Beyond the likes, though, there are words and phrases we all over-use in our speech and in the written word. Have someone else read four or five different samples of your writing, and odds are there will be a couple of words that stand out to them. These are your fall back words. Mine include ‘particularly’ and ‘biscuit’. Usually you won’t overuse them within the same document, but you overuse them in the copy you produce as a whole, and this becomes a problem for a couple reasons.

Everything starts to sound the same.

The overused word has no meaning.

Take ‘particularly.’ (We’d take ‘biscuit’, but I already have. It was delicious, thank you for asking.) Particularly means ‘in particular’. It is meant to draw attention to the modifying adjective or verb in question. How fast was he? Particularly fast. Faster than your average biscuit, was he.

When I use particularly over and over, it stops meaning this. Particularly fast was he? Particularly fast the way that biscuit was particularly tasty? Because I personally found the biscuit to be of average tastiness, and you, sah, do not know from a particular biscuit.

You diminish your writing this way. Every now and again, have someone run through your writing for words you overuse, and then run a search-and-find for them after you finish a draft of new copy. Microsoft Word has only a couple of features I actually know how to use, people. This is one of them. Challenge yourself to use another word.

The Culprits

Some common overused words we tend to stick in everywhere? ‘Very’ and ‘really’. Guess how I started using ‘particularly’ more often? Trying to get rid of those other suckers. No one’s caught on yet, but if particularly becomes the next really, we are all going to be very distressed. Other fallback words frequently show up in business language, like ‘utilizing’, a word that has no practical reason to exist, and should really be put out of its misery.

What word do you use too much, in writing or speaking? I WANT TO KNOW.

Subscribe. I think that’s really a particularly good idea.



  1. Tei,

    Yes yes yes!

    I was at my favorite bagel shop last week, failing to write a post, with two people I thought were old enough to know better next to me. They were like having this conversation that like made no sense because they like put all these nonsense interjections in, you know!

    Worse yet, one was a mumbler, so to properly eavesdrop I had to stop paying attention to my writing. Unfortunately they were saying nothing juicy at all. With all those likes, they were just saying nothing at all.

    The discovery for me was that the teens I think of as having this affliction are now twentysomethings, which means I am like, old.

    Wishing nothing more than to stand up and beat them both senseless with my bagel, I instead packed up my ball-point pen and my pile of scrap paper and vamoosed.

    Me? I overuse “really.” Totally, completely guilty of that. I try really hard not to, bur I still do. It drives me nuts, because I’ve noticed that it is losing its punch (if “really” ever had any), just as you say.

    “Particularly” is too difficult to spell for it to become the next “really.”

    Then I overuse all the Mom stuff like “shut that blasted GameBoy off” and “is your homework done” and “why do your showers take 25 minutes when I know you have the same body parts as everyone else?” but that rarely creeps into my writing. Except right now.

    In my line, the words I’d ban are “new,” “unique,” and “customer-oriented.” Blah.

    Nicely said. Keep working on that “like,” or some lady may beat you up in a bagel shop one day for wrecking her zen contemplation time.




    Comment by Kelly — June 3, 2008 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  2. We had an English teacher in my Senior year of HS who overused “alright.” We counted 116 in one 45-minute class period. Okay, she was brand new to teaching and nervous as a cat, and we smelled fresh meat. But come on – you’re the English teacher! Oy and vey.

    Comment by Lori — June 3, 2008 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

  3. I overuse ‘apparently’ and ‘bit’… i wrote a blog post yesterday, posted it, then realized I’d used bit in three sentences in a row and twice in the paragraph after. It doesn’t leap out while proofreading since it’s not a misspelling, but it’s annoying when reading it for content.

    Comment by Rete — June 3, 2008 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  4. I recently called out the use of “you know” and “I mean” in speaking. Even my mom is now a notorious you-knower.

    Making up nouns on the spot is also a bad language habit of mine, but that’s just for fun (that’s what they all say). Darn that Joss Whedon.

    Comment by cool dad — June 3, 2008 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  5. Great post! I like how it challenges us to think more when writing. My most overused word is “totally.” I speak and tend to write using extremes, another bad habit: totally, utterly, completely, never, always…there are probably more words, too. Thanks for this. It’s easier to pick out this kind of thing in writing other than my own, and I’m not sure I’ve been as conscious of it when I write. I’m also guilty of overusing the semicolon, but I’ve been more aware of that since Naomi hates it!

    Comment by Steph — June 3, 2008 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

  6. I use the F-word a lot, probably too much.

    But mostly outside of work, when I’m with my Neanderthal beer-drinking Viking companions. But I’ll try (not always sucessfully) to keep it out of my writing.

    But I LOVE to use the word “shit”. If used in moderation, I think it helps emphasize the point the writer is trying to make.

    Just like you did, in this post!

    I approve! 🙂

    Comment by Friar — June 3, 2008 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  7. I over use “of course”, of course..

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — June 3, 2008 @ 8:12 pm | Reply

  8. I was just informed that our language today has 5 times as many words as Shakespeare had… ah, what a waste most’ve made of it. What a pleasure to use well. Thanks for the reminder with your own writing.

    These are not my issues, but three of the more over-used crutches for poor word-smithing I’ve noticed in the blogosphere and in print are:

    >absolutes, both used and abused (“the BEST,” the VERY BEST,”,”LITERALLY COUNTLESS,” etc.);

    >redundancy (“the SUPERIFIC BEST EVER #1 offer, “his TIRED-LOOKING, DROOPING, HANG-DOG face,” etc.);

    >preludes (“WELL AS I WAS SAYING,” “You KNOW, NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT,” etc.).

    “Evocative economy” is more than a motto, it’s a worthy aspiration. Thanks for starting the fun conversation.

    Comment by GirlPie — June 3, 2008 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  9. Kelly: My absolute favorite story about ‘like’-girls, just for you.

    Two girls in my favorite Chicago coffeeshop/sandwich place (Bourgeois Pig, go now), chattering away in that high Valley-girl slang. “So we don’t really like hang out, I mean, I see her like four or five times a week and we like go to a club or something but we don’t like hang out.” This kind of chatter. One of them gets up, goes downstairs. Comes back with a cup of coffee and a sour expression.

    “So I like ordered a tall latte and this guy was like you mean you want a small and I’m like NO, I want a fucking TALL.”

    Lori: All right is a big one for older people, I’ve noticed. And insecure people.

    Rete: Oh, I know, I hate that.

    V. Cool Dad: Joss Whedon’s Firefly is a tiny world of Joy.

    Steph: Yeah . . . I hope I don’t overuse totally, but I do use it. I have my eye on it, if it gets out of hand.

    Friar: ‘Tain’t possible to overdo the swearing, Friar. Carry on.

    Tony: Of course of course.

    Girlpie: Ooh, ‘the best’. I do use that, but usually when I’m being over-exuberant, not when I’m describing something real. I’ll say ‘this was the best thing that ever happened to life, smothered in sausage gravy and served with a beer.’ And I think we’re okay with that.

    Redundant adjectives. OY. I hate those.

    Comment by Tei — June 3, 2008 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  10. We’re TOTALLY okay with the usage when it’s capturing a voice or an experience — you got it. Personally, I do something like “Naomi’s got the best-best-best readers in town” to make sure I’m understood tonally as well as, like, actually, alright?

    Comment by GirlPie — June 3, 2008 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

  11. Tei,

    “Bourgeois Pig, go now.” That would be as opposed to “The Pub, stay away.” *big wink*

    I get all over my kid when she does “like.” It may be the cause of the downfall of western civilization, and I just can’t let her be part of that.

    The worst one, not mentioned today: “Goes.” “And he goes, like, ‘You’re pretty cute,’ and I go “Shut up,’ and he goes, “No, really.”

    Of course, that falls under both “using too much” and “using f-ing WRONG.”

    My daughter doesn’t do “goes” at all, because since birth if she even shed a tear that sounded like “goes,” I got up in her little baby face. The cow MOOS, the cow doesn’t GO MOO. She will thank me later, though therapy may come first.

    Gosh, I do love a good language post. My inner stickler is so happy right now.

    Until later,


    Comment by Kelly — June 4, 2008 @ 1:04 am | Reply

  12. My repetitive words are “just” (the polite, apologetic, self-effacing Southerner) and another word recently acquired from an enthusiastic and younger co-worker, “awesome.”

    I drive MYSELF nuts with awesomeness now.

    Comment by Carolyn Bahm — June 4, 2008 @ 6:11 am | Reply

  13. Yes. I overuse “accordingly” in writing and, unfortunately, “like” and “cool” in speech. In fact, I routinely go through anything I have written and take out ever “very”, “really” and at least a few “accordingly” and any of its synonyms. I become appallingly aware of my speech ticks whenever I listen to a voice mail that I have left someone. I’m young (24) and I sound even younger because I’m soft spoken, nice, and overly wary of sounding aggressive or offensive. I’m also an attorney. So when I leave a voice mail that includes unnecessary “likes” or “ums” it makes me sound young, inexperienced, and undermines my credibility. Although I know that my listener isn’t thinking to himself (or, rarely, herself) “She used ‘like’ improperly three times in one voice message,” it is quite likely that he is thinking that he can fairly easily pull the wool over my eyes because I’ll more than likely be thinking of what something was like and not what it actually was.

    Comment by MonstersMama — June 4, 2008 @ 10:47 pm | Reply

  14. This post is, like, totally awesome….

    Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough gave the commencement address at Boston College earlier this week.
    I admire McCullough and his work very much. I just read “1776” earlier this year and I loved it. So I was very interested to hear what…

    Trackback by SmithWriting Blog — June 5, 2008 @ 12:05 am | Reply

  15. Dude! You rock! Your post rocked my socks off!

    So, let’s see…we’ve got “Dude,” “You rock,” “rocked my socks off,” and the ever present “!!!”

    I catch myself doing it and it annoys me. Ugh.

    Comment by Sandie — June 6, 2008 @ 2:55 am | Reply

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