That, Just, Really, Rather, Perhaps, Wonder, Then, Up, Down, and Quite
After finishing my latest manuscript, I went on a hunt for overused words. Just, that, and then find their way into my writing as easily as pine needles find their way to my carpet. (I live in the Pacific Northwest.)
If all the needless words were omitted from this sentence: “I really just wonder that perhaps if I sit my butt down in my rather comfy chair and not leap up every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done,” it would be a much tighter sentence. This example is an exaggeration; even novice writers wouldn’t create such a mess.
Here it is minus these ten words: “If I sit my butt in my comfy chair and leap every time the phone rings, I’d get more writing done.” This sentence is concise.
Five words were removed from the beginning (really, just, wonder, that, perhaps) and replaced with “if.” “Rather” was also removed. My chair is comfy—period. But now that I think about it, I’d also delete “comfy.” You don’t want to be too relaxed, or your face might end up on your keyboard. “Up,” was removed because in what other direction would you leap from a chair? (I guess you could leap down from a chair if you were standing on it, but that’s not the case.)
In the following sentences one word was omitted from the titled list. You’ll find it is not missed.
1. Did you think that I would leave you stranded in the woods alone? (If you remove that, the sentence is still correct.)
2. My kayak was sinking and I just had to get ahold of myself. (Just causes a pause and removes the tension from the action.)
3. I really like adding jalapeños to my banana and peanut butter sandwich. (Sometimes really can sound pleading. If you like this food combination, don’t worry about convincing anyone, claim your preference and enjoy it.)
4. I ate the entire plate of nachos and now I feel rather stuffed. (Stuffed is stuffed, as in not possible to fit any more food into your stomach—ditch rather.)
5. Perhaps if I tried to concentrate harder, I’d finish my manuscript sooner. (There’s no “perhaps” about it.)
6. I turned on my heel, then slammed the door in his face, then later wished I hadn’t been so hostile. (Adding then several times makes the sentence sound like a six-year old wrote it.) Instead: I turned on my heel, slammed the door in his face, and later wished I hadn’t been so hostile.
7. My heart leapt up when I received a call from Publishers’ Clearing House. (Omit up; again, how else can one’s heart leap?)
8. I sat my empty beer mug down on the bar. (Down can be removed. You couldn’t set a mug up on a bar unless you were a very short person.)
9. “We’re not quite there yet,” uses two words meaning the same thing: quite and yet. “Yet” indicates a farther distance is necessary. Remove “quite.” “We’re not there yet” is clear enough.
10. I wonder if you would remove your dog’s teeth from my ankle? (Does one have to wonder about this? Dog teeth were embedded in your ankle doesn’t warrant a wishy-washy request. In fact, the first five words can go—begin with “Remove” and conclude with an exclamation point.)
These ten words are necessary in a few instances, but take care not to overuse them.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director