where the writers are
Overused Words

If you haven’t seen this already, Lake Supe­rior State Uni­ver­sity in Michi­gan has released its “Words to be Ban­ished from the Queen’s Eng­lish for Mis­use, Overuse and Gen­eral Use­less­ness” for the 38th year in a row.
This year’s hit list:
Fis­cal cliff
Kick the can down the road
Dou­ble down
Job creators/creation
YOLO (You only live once)
Spoiler alert
Bucket list
Bone­less wings
(For expanded descrip­tions and the rea­sons for the choices, click here.)

We all have words and phrases we like to use, often to the point of overuse. Maybe we’re not even aware we’re using them. When we’re writ­ing, they seem to sneak into our man­u­scripts via our fin­gers, and some­times it’s as if the brain isn’t involved at all.

Lit­tle words, like “just” and “really” and “well” are com­monly listed among words that don’t add any­thing to the man­u­script other than giv­ing our brains time to catch up with what we’re try­ing to write. They’re the equiv­a­lent of the “um” in speak­ing. No mat­ter how many times I tell myself to avoid overus­ing “just”, when I do my search dur­ing edits, I’ll find they’re pop­ping up all over the place.

Big “fancy” words are in another cat­e­gory. Miasma? Efful­gent? Par­si­mony? They’re going to jump out at a reader, and should be used spar­ingly, per­haps only once or twice in an entire man­u­script. And, of course, the caveat that any “fancy” words are appro­pri­ate to the char­ac­ter, the genre, and the time­frame of the book. If you’re read­ing a Regency romance, the lan­guage is going to be totally dif­fer­ent from a contemporary.

I catch a lot of repeats and ‘bor­ing’ words when I print out my daily out­put and read it on the page instead of the screen. Even when I go back and improve word choices, when it comes time for my final run-through for crutch words, they’re still there. Nor­mally, I will check for con­text. Is it dia­logue? Does it enhance the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion? Then, I look to see how long it’s been since the last time I used the word. (There’s that “you’re on page XXX” thing at the bot­tom of Word) If it’s a com­mon word, my goal is at least 10 pages between uses. “Medium” words, maybe 30–50 pages. And those big fancy ones? If they’re truly the char­ac­ter speak­ing, and not autho­r­ial intru­sion, once is enough.

What words do you overuse? What words bug you when you’re read­ing? And, what would you add to this year’s “banned” list?