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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Words We LOVE to Overuse

by LuAnn Schindler

Read through your writing, and you will undoubtedly find a word, several words, or even phrases you tend to repeat. For those of us who write on a daily basis, the practice of penning the same word in the majority of our stories may seem like happenstance.

Or maybe it plays out like the movie Groundhog Day - no matter how we try to cut the word, it keeps popping up in our writing And then we begin a new day, with a new goal or assignment, and guess what happens? That's right. There's the pesky word or phrase, taunting us, daring us to strike it from the page.

It happens to the best of writers as often as it occurs with the novices. Recently, I flipped through a handful of poems I was contemplating for a contest entry. In three of the five, one word and one phrase glared at me and begged for a fresh reprieve.

At first I thought it was a coincidence, but then I scanned my memory bank and remembered what was happening in my life at that time. I understood why those words and the connotations stood out.

But a quarter-life crisis doesn't excuse a writer from overusing a word. No, I'll keep that until I reach my three-quarter life crisis (which, luckily, is still close to 30 years away!).

Yesterday, a New York Times standards editor instructed Times reporters to delete the word 'famously' from their vocabulary. Precision is necessary, and 'famously' doesn't always create a sense of preciseness.

Like most of you, I have a personal list of words that make me cringe when I see them in print. I could share the entire list, but I'm afraid some readers may not have all day to peruse my laundry list of pet peeves associated with writing vocabulary.

Sure, many of them are basic grammar errors that can be easily solved.

But some words, like 'love' and 'hate' bother me. When writers overuse emotional words that have a strong meaning, the words become watered down and run off the page, splashing into a puddle of jumbled letters that simply want to be rescrambled and formed into new words.

When that happens, a writer loses the connection she's established with readers. She alienates potential clients when she chooses to fill the page with overused, often misused, terms. Yes, say what you mean, but be precise! Love the new fill-in-the-blank-NYT-bestselling-author's-name-here book, you say. Love it! Love it?

No, tell me how you really feel about it.

Tell me the truth and tell me precisely why you enjoy it.

What words are on your overused (or often misused) list?


  1. This is the second post about overused writing I've seen this week. Guess it's time I pay attention :)

    In my current WIP I used 'dark, darkness, black' alot. I need to find other words to use as replacements - or work at describing these words better!

  2. Anonymous10:44 AM

    How about dim, gloomy, shadowy, sunless. Dean Koontz is super describing the dark side....Diane Hoover

  3. Good post. I need to excise my copy.

    In the meantime, I am full uptohere of cute & lavender (not necessarily, or ever, seen together).

  4. "she said with feeling" That particular phrase almost made me put down a very famous NYT best seller's book. She overuses it so much that it's distracting and irritating. I couldn't concentrate on the storyline because of it. Grrr...

    That said, I've got to go fix some of my overused phrases.


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