Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid

21 Apr

10:19 — Atlanta

Good day! Yes, I am running a little late: a lovely phone call from my son and a Facebook farm that required harvesting. Last week I started through the list of words for writers to avoid. Many of the words pertain more to prose writing, and even speech, but a few creep into poetry. They are all words that need to be seen and heard less. You can see the original list here.

You will have noticed [I am sure], that the first two words we dealt with, really and actually, are adverbs, and you will remember that I have said to avoid adverbs unless they are necessary to the truth of what you are writing about. The three words I want to slide out of your vocabulary today, are all adverbs, words that qualify, or set boundaries, to the words they modify. All these words have lost meaning through overuse. As you read through this, let your ear hear the difference between sentences using the no no words, and the same sentences without the words.

The first word is very from the Latin for truthful [Really? Actually? Yes, very is a cousin.]. If we say He is very tall, we are being unspecific and very weakens the word tall. Why not: He is tall. Now if he is unusually tall, we can employ simile, or metaphor: He is a giant. Now, a giant is very tall!

Very is often used to modify a word that is an ultimate, such as: She is very unique. Unique, in and of itself, implies the very. She is very evil. How can someone be beyond evil? There is no beyond. She is evil can stand alone to convey the truth about the person. Having the very distracts from and weakens the strong, specific noun, evil.

A close relative to very is so, used in the same way: He is so handsome. The so is to add emphasis and in speech works better than in writing. Again, the plain, straightforward: He is handsome, can stand alone. Or, bring simile, or metaphor, into play: He is as handsome as George Clooney.

So is also used almost as an interjection: So, are you ready? Why not: Are you ready? So, shall we go? Try: Shall we go?

The final word for today is just used as an adverb, to mean only, or simply. Again, the word acts as a qualifier. I just want to go home, or, He just won’t listen, and, That is just what I mean. Now listen with your inner ear: I want to go home, He won’t listen, and, That is what I mean. The removal of just clarifies and strengthens what is said. Now, if you want to use it to add a nuance: He was just a stockboy until they promoted him, that’s intentional use, because the word implies something demeaning about being a stockboy.

While I am suggesting removing these words from your vocabulary, what I mean is that you should use the words, as you would with all word choices, deliberately and with knowledge of their effect on other words, on the writing as a whole, and on readers.

As we head into the Easter weekend, I shall have an abbreviated Friday Freeforall…okay, I will try. On Tuesday we will look at ballads. And, next Thursday we will do another group of words to avoid. I promise a break on the words after that, before finishing the list. If you know anyone who would enjoy this, do click on the buttons below. Happy writing.


Posted by on 21/04/2011 in poetry, writing


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7 responses to “Thursday Thoughts: More Words to Avoid

  1. Josephine Faith Gibbs

    21/04/2011 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks, Margo. It’s so (ack!) interesting to listen to myself after reading this. Much needed.
    The way we use “so” to start sentences (“So, shall we go?”) reminds me of talking on two-way radio with a voice activated mike that tends to cut off the first word you speak. Do we fall into sloppy habits like starting with “so” in an attempt to get people to start listening before we say what we want to communicate? It’s still no excuse, as it probably only develops lazy listeners.

  2. margo roby

    21/04/2011 at 1:26 pm

    It’s funny, Josephine, but after teaching my students [who REALLY use these words and are the reason why I came up with the list] I became conscious of my own speaking to the point that I prehear myself about to say one of the no no words. The good thing is that I broke myself of saying the words!

  3. Annette @ Aspen Meadows

    21/04/2011 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks Margo. The “words to avoid” posts are very helpful. I find myself scanning my writing to make sure they aren’t there –

    • margo roby

      21/04/2011 at 3:47 pm

      You are welcome, Annette. You will find your ear, both inner and outer, will hear them automatically after a while. The problem: you will hear them in other people’s writing and they will grate. Ah well!

  4. Donna Vorreyer

    21/04/2011 at 9:16 pm

    This is wonderful – when I am back in the classroom next year, I would love to use this as a reference for my middle school kids!

    • margo roby

      21/04/2011 at 9:24 pm

      Please do, Donna. I have a list of Method Writing rules I used with my students and the no no words were part of the list. I started discussing them last Thursday and will continue for a couple of Thursdays.


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