8 Tired Words & How to Retire Them

This is my first guest post by my terrific Twitter buddy, Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud. Enjoy her words of wisdom and take them to heart. :) Be sure and check out her site: Word Whisperer

8 Tired Words & How to Retire Them

by Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud

Here’s a list of words we use a lot without thinking. And that’s the problem. Given a little thought and respect for the usage of these words, our writing (and speech) can gain vocabulary, clarity, and an expressiveness uniquely our own.

Great is a lofty little word that has lost so much of its significance. Something great used to be treated with honor. Now it’s a trite thank-you add-on at best, and the grown-up version of “cool” at worst. Try mixing up positive exclamations to include “wonderful,” “incredible,” “thought-provoking,” and more as appropriate.

Very is an empty filler word, like the air-pouches used in shipping. Comparing a big dog to a very big dog doesn’t convey the same sense of scale as a tiny bug to a microscopic parasite. But we can’t get enough of it, so go ahead and write it in. Just be sure to remove or replace it before publishing. Plenty of unemployed adjectives do a leaner job.

Cool is a cheap, thoughtless word that says nothing about the attached noun. “Cool book!” could refer to amazing literary attributes and creative genius or stand in place of “I read it, already, get off my back!” It’s a positive word, but that’s all it’s got going for it. Dig deeper for an adjective that will convey a truer impression of the noun.

Really is a filler word, too. Actually, it often fills in for another filler word: very. A “really big deal” had better be, but I’d have to see it to believe it, and I’d rather stay home. Better to use language that’ll make me stand up and take notice, something like “It was a historic deal.”

Issue is a word that describes things we don’t want to go into too many details about… at the moment, anyway. The plumbing issue. The war issue. My personal issues. Don’t be afraid. Call it what it is: the backed-up toilet, the international disaster, the cranky editor. No hard feelings.

May and might are wishy-washy. We as readers of the modern age are increasingly intolerant of wishy-washy language. It keeps humble opinions humble and your preliminary conclusions backstage. Maybe they needn’t have been mentioned at all.

Pretty is an adjective that means pleasant-looking, usually in the feminine sense. It’s also borderline wishy-washy and often sarcastic. Try using “rather” instead when about to say someone is “pretty” harsh.

Like is a word we all love to hate, but we can’t seem to keep it in the correct place in our lexicons. But remember, it does have a full-time job as a verb and doesn’t have time to fill in when we can’t, like, find the right words—not even say, “um” or “uh.”

A senior customer I used to attend years ago would come, pick up his items, and then say, “Have a sparkling day.” I always felt sparkly after that exchange, and appreciated his replacing the “good” or “great” day for something that made me feel so special. And that thoughtful expression made him special, too.

27 thoughts on “8 Tired Words & How to Retire Them”

  1. This is a fabulous start to a perplexing problem. Add “have” and “get/got” to the list. They’re just lazy ways of avoiding the use of a more descriptive verb.

    And while we’re at it, no harm intended, but let’s strike “a lot” from our written work.

  2. Great, very, cool and really. I’m guilty of overusing them all. Among my other sinfully overused words: that, said, and. I often go over my works, use the find and replace for these words, and replace them with more creative things–or just delete them!

  3. Very, really, truly, quite, are unknown quantities. How much is very? The word very is the epitome of verbal garbage.
    “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain

  4. Add on “amazing,” the word that has supplanted “awesome” in terms of overuse and misuse. I’m sure we could come up with more words that have become so hackneyed that they have lost their impact.

  5. With regards to “issue”: a corollary to this rule would be the corporate favorite, “challenge”. I find it worse than “issue”. Talk about hiding the distasteful… And, of course, the real joke is, when an audience hears the word “challenge” from management, they immediately think “impossible problem”.

    A practice that I follow might fit in with your article. When writing a document of any length, I try very hard to “mix it up” when it appears that a certain word will occur quite often in the piece. I have a self-imposed limit of “within two to three paragraphs”. For example, if I textually describe an “issue”, I will address it later with an appropriate word, such as “issue” or “problem” (never “challenge”). The next time it might be “obstacle” or “demand”. I feel this not only keeps the reader reading the text, but because they must engage with the different words, they may actually take in the information.

    Of course, the thesaurus is my best friend.

    1. Oh, man, Lew, listening to corporate talk makes you look at all kinds of words cross-eyed. “Challenge” is definitely one of those.

      That’s exactly what I do, as well, when writing, in a furtive way. I kind of hope no one will notice my abuse of the thesaurus.

  6. So many overused words and empty adjectives. I have a client who is in love with the words pretty and clever, and inserts them in the copy whenever possible. It drives me up the wall!

  7. Another word that should be on the list, because it is both overused and misused: unique. So many things are “unique” these days that everything is the same.

  8. This article is so cool. No, seriously, it’s really, really great! The issue raised may (or might not) make writers stop and like think about striking entire groups of non-awesome words.

  9. Thanks–it’s always useful to learn what others consider trite. When I’m editing, “truly” is often a tip-off that the writer couldn’t think of the strongest way to state whatever follows.

    I do feel compelled to point out that “pretty” is an adjective only when it refers to attractiveness. As a synonym for “rather,” it’s an adverb: it modifies adjectives and other adverbs.

  10. More words being abused – had, but, that, and, and then, just… I find them in almost every paragraph I read though. They are so easy to be replaced by other words. Your Thesaurus can be your best friend at times 😉

  11. ‘Moving forward’, and, ‘having said that’ are control freak phrases for:”no questions” and “now, to corroborate what I said earlier” as well as being used as fillers for: “I don’t know how to answer your questions, or how to tie these two ideas together, so let’s move on to more stuff I’m not qualified to speak on.

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