Word rant part I

typewriterThis is a rant — my take on William Strunk, Jr.’s dictum to “Omit needless words”. The following list is of words that are problematic for me but not for everyone. Most editors have their own little issues. I think mine are perfectly justified; so do we all.

utilize – why can’t you say ‘use’? (the verb)
utilization – why can’t you say ‘use’? (the noun)
somehow – as in, somehow Poopsie managed to drive a car even though it was out of gas/he was a hamster/etc. Either describe how Poopsie managed to do whatever it was, or don’t, but delete the ‘somehow’ unless what you really mean by somehow is ‘there is no way this could happen’ (deadpan humor or a signal to the reader that the speaker or narrator is lying); or ‘this wasn’t really that difficult to accomplish’ (irony, sarcasm); or you mean ‘there is no way that this could happen except in a perfect world’ (poignant idealism), like the somewhere/somehow song from West Side Story.
lovely – I just don’t like this word. I especially dislike it when it’s used to describe the way someone looks. I think it’s a froofy word. (Now there’s a word that says it all. Describes something so frivolous and fluffy you feel: oof.) ‘Lovely’ is only okay if used in conversation, where “Oooh, lovely” can be sincere, or wry, or gushing, in each case telling the reader something about a character.
deftly – whenever I read this I think: oh for god’s sake (OFGS). If you can describe what the character is doing you do not need this word. As in: she caught the flying knives deftly. (It would only be of interest if she didn’t.)
tartly – to describe a tone of voice, as in: “Eat shit and die,” she said tartly. Another OFGS. If you can’t hear the character’s tone of voice in the dialogue, then rewrite the dialogue.

6 thoughts on “Word rant part I

  1. Pam, you are so right. ‘Lovely’ is a word that should be avoided at all costs. You (one) must be particularly careful after the age of 60 as at that point Lovely is lurking in every corner just waiting to sweep you up into its stickily embrace.

  2. Jessie SK says:

    So, adverbs = not okay?

    • pamsumma says:

      Some of them are okay. For instance, in The Vagabond, by Colette: “I ought to say it out loud, instead of remaining wheedlingly silent…” ‘Wheedlingly’ works, tells the reader more. Not a needless word. I’ll bet I could find a well-used adverb in Out of Africa (or anything by Isak Dinesen), although I admit to scanning Wise Children by Angela Carter, and finding nothing yet. Surprise! She does it with verbs and adjectives and nouns.
      BUT! just found: M. Bulgakov, in The Master & Margarita — tons of adverbs! The black cat, walking on its hind legs and talking, sits down ‘casually’; the stage manager clutches his stomach (now minus his watch & chain) ‘involuntarily’, and someone remarks ‘cheerfully’ that he wouldn’t sit next to the magician (who is really the Devil) on a trolley. The adverbs make the scene funnier and sort of feverish.

  3. Ed Goldberg says:

    Hi, Pammy —
    “Lovely” is a word invented by Shakespeare, and I have always been partial to it. But, I take your comment seriously.

    At this point in time = now
    is on my list, which is too long to mention here.

    Elmore Leonard said you should kill all adverbs. I say, not completely. But, it is a good exercise to search on “-ly” in a manuscript, and cull most of them.
    Your characters can utter cliches, but not you. They can use poor grammar, or misuse words, but you can’t.
    I try to avoid excessive poetic verbiage, going instead for the Chandler-esque pithy allusion. (As inconspicuous as a tarantula on an angel-food cake.)
    I will reserve my venom for nonsense like “an historic.” An is used before a vowel sound. You don’t say “an horse”, do you?
    I could go on, as you well know.

    Love you bunches.

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