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.
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.
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