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.
John and Toni Rakestraw are the owners of Rakestraw Book Design. Toni is the editor; she keeps all those words in line. John is the voice of the company. He can often be found hosting Google+ Hangouts on writing and issues writers face online. Archives for his shows can be found on YouTube.