Monday, October 1, 2012

Words to Avoid

As a writer, I’ve come across many lists of words to avoid or phrases that can be reduced from many to one. Most recently I’ve read that adverbs should be omitted and that the word 'very' is useless.

But this is silly. Adverbs are necessary when you need to describe an action (a verb) more specifically. For example, you can say, 'he walked down the street.' But that’s a little flat. How did he walk? Did he walk slowly? Lethargically? Confidently? Nervously? Of course, you can change the verb, ‘he glided down the street' or 'he danced down the street' or even 'he walked down the street, pausing even few feet to see if he was being followed.'

Likewise, the word 'very' can be helpful, mostly if you are writing the dialogue of children. I am reminded of the comic strip 'Peanuts' here. They are given an assignment to write a 100-word book report on Peter Rabbit and Lucy uses 'very' to pad out the end. That is humorous sure, but also something a girl her age – how old is she? – is likely to do, which makes it funnier. I could even say it is very funny.

My point, of course, is that for every 'rule' I see, I can probably think of exceptions. And even that point has an exception: which is the rules in Elements of Style are not open for discussion, unless you need clarification on any points in that book. Interestingly enough, Element of Style does not have a list of words to avoid, just a little of words that are misused. Read that list and learn the proper use of those words. It is the best thing a writer can do to write well with the exception of writing often.

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