Overused Words & Conciseness

During the summer, I have had several opportunities to read publications on a variety of topics: film archives, shyness, music—the list goes on. I also listened to several breaking news headlines on television. As I was reading and listening, I couldn’t help but ask myself why authors and spokespeople loved long-winded, overused words and structures instead of fresh, concise ones. For instance, I often heard and read the famous in order to + verb. And, like the late Karen Virag, I have had my (fair) dose of issues. (Read Virag’s text on the Editors’ Association of Canada’s weekly blog.) As an editor and occasional writer, I automatically edit out overused words and connectors, and provide potential readers and clients with fresher, shorter alternatives. I strive to do the same thing when I’m given a translation mandate.

Without any further ado, here are some words or connectors I think should be edited out in writing and translation.

in order to + verb: Though this connector is perfectly acceptable in English, I feel it’s wordy in writing. What do you think? Get rid of in order and you’re left with to + verb. This structure is more concise; you’re still stating a purpose of something.

due to the fact that: Why are writers so obsessed with this structure? It makes texts clunky, not to mention it’s wordy. Depending on your context, consider because, since, for, as, owing to, to name but these. These words are not as spicy as due to the fact that, but you save yourself a lot of words—and keystrokes!

dynamic: This must be a knee-jerk translation of the French dynamique. (And yes, I think this French word needs to be eliminated in everyday writing.) I have often seen dynamic in English translations I have edited. This word is overused; moreover, dynamic is not necessarily effective in each translation. Author and certified translator Grant Hamilton gives translators a number of options to consider when conveying the French dynamique. Here are just a few: fast-paced, can-do, up-and-coming, upbeat, exciting, aggressive. [1]

thing: I will admit that I use this word frequently in everyday speech. But must you always use it in writing? Try one of these words: object, aspect, tool, concept, task. Of course, consider context when choosing alternatives.

very: I thank McGill University Professor Debbie Bltyhe for talking about this very word in her writing techniques class. I wholeheartedly agree that this word weakens texts. Instead of writing, “This is a very important document for people to read,” why not write something along the lines of “This is an essential document for people to read.” Look! You save a word and several keystrokes! And don’t you think that essential is stronger than “very important”? Some time last year, a member of the Language Students and Professionals Community posted this site on its Facebook page: 45 Ways to Avoid Using the Word ‘Very.’ I highly recommend you visit this webpage. Replace very with some of the options listed, and you’ll see how your text can be improved!

Do you know of any overused words or wordy structures in English? in other languages? What word(s) or connector(s) do you use to replace wordy structures or overused words, expressions?

[1] Grant Hamilton & François Lavallée, Tweets et gazouillis pour des traductions qui chantent, Linguatech éditeur inc., Montreal, 2012, pp. 24, 41.

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