What a week! Cooking on a gas camp stove loses its charm after a few days, and we were lucky to have power restored so soon. We are grateful to have had food, water, and LED lanterns that allowed reading when the rain drove us inside. Our road is now closed because of high water on the bridge down from our home. A red truck lopsided in that water warns not to attempt a crossing for those who ignore the cones blocking access to the bridge.
There are not enough thank yous for Duke Energy and for the crew that cut down a fallen tree at the top of our driveway before we could put the chainsaw to it. Our chores for today include raking up the leaf debris and tackling two other fallen trees. Surrounded by many towering trees, our house escaped injury, another blessing, so all in all, we have had even fewer inconveniences than we’ve experienced in other hurricanes. We send our prayers to all who still know real deprivations and fear for their future that the storm has threatened.
In the past I have referred to grammarlyblog.com as a useful source for those of us determined to use the best language. A recent article, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Filler Words,” lists 31 words and phrases that we can eliminate from our speaking and writing to make both succinct and economical. The article made me more conscious of the “stuffing” that pervades writing, those excess words that carry little meaning.
1. at all times: Grammarlyblog warns, “Watch out for flabby phrases at all times. If we need to emphasize how often we need to watch the flab, we can substitute always, inserting it before “Watch.”
2. each and every: This redundancy is one of my pet peeves as I have watched it creep into the parlance. For example, “Look for filler words in your writing each and every day.” Eliminate either each or every; both are not needed.
3. as yet: compare these two sentences: We don’t know as yet whether we’ll succeed.
We don’t know whether we’ll succeed.
Eliminating this phrase doesn’t affect the meaning and doesn’t add any meaning either.
4. in order: this phrase precedes the infinitive to as in “In order to clean up your writing, eliminate excess verbiage.” Drop the in order part and the meaning is the same.
5. basically, essentially: “These words basically don’t add value” to the sentence. We can add these other “empty” words: totally, completely, absolutely, literally, actually, very, really, quite, rather, extremely are cousins of these words that make expression dull.
6. simply: Grammarlyblog advises not using this word often, perhaps because nothing is ever merely simple.
7. pretty: as an adjective, this word carries meaning. When we use it as an adverb as in “I am pretty tired,” we use an adjective to modify another adjective. Adverbs modify (change the meaning of) adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs. The adverb form is prettily as in “She plays the piano prettily,” but “competently” or “skillfully” would be better choices.
8. just: Hide my head in shame as this one peppers my prose all too often. The example from Grammarly — “If your sentence works without it, you just don’t need this word” — reminds me that “work” is the operative word: use “working words” whenever we can to avoid the sludge that impedes the reception of our words.
9. up, down: Grammarlyblog asks why we use these empty words in “stand up” and “sit down” when “stand” can only have an “up” direction just as “sit” has a “down” implication.
10. in the process of: Here’s one that we can think about: “We’re in the process of learning to remove wordiness.” Look at the main verb “learning.” It is the progressive tense of the verb. Progressive means “being in the process of something.” Leave out the phrase in the process of and the verb does its job.
11. as a matter of fact: If we are stating a fact, as in “The storm took out three trees,” we don’t need to emphasize that it is a fact.
12. as being, being that: Both these phrases need to be eliminated or substituted: Grammarly’s examples are “You’ll be known as being a proficient writer” and “Being that you’re the best writer in the news department, you deserve a raise.” Student essays sometimes have being that in liberal doses, but the phrase needs to be replaced with Because.
13. during the course of: Rephrase with “the course of” deleted. “During the course of the hearings, the candidate denied the accusation.”
14. For all intents and purposes, For the most part: Both these fillers need to be excised from our writing and speaking: “For the most part, our writing will improve.”
15. point in time: “You don’t need to use filler words at this point in time now” is Grammarly’s example. During the Watergate scandal, politicians used this phrase to gain time as they were being interviewed about the event.
Other offenders of wordiness and clutter include modifiers that repeat an idea already implicit in a word being modified: phrases such as active consideration, final outcome, completely finished, basic essentials, advance planning, present status, past history, circle around, and others repeat an idea in the nouns or verbs they modify.
One textbook calls some forms of wordiness “excess qualification”: utterly rejected, perfectly clear, completely compatible, and completely accurate.
Grammarly reminds us that “every word needs to have a purpose in our writing.” This statement is one reason that I review the parts of speech with freshmen writers well before they submit the first graded essay. Some of them tell me they appreciate the reminder that our language has structure, organization, and purpose, one of which is not to confound readers with excess. Sometimes these clutter words and phrases do soften expression, but conciseness clarifies meaning and saves time and space.
Liz Meador is an adjunct instructor at Wayne Community College. Questions or suggestions for column topics may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.