We all have crutch words--those words that seem to crop up in a manuscript, edging out other, more useful or appropriate words. Some of them seem to be the equivalent of the spoken "um" merely vamping until thoughts coagulate. I have a list, but even after I cull my known offenders, others seem to be sucked into the manuscript--after all, nature abhors a vacuum.
I've started trying to search and destroy these words as I go, checking every few chapters. Easier to cull 50 appearances of "just" now, than 500 of them later.
But sometimes, there's a word that will be repeated simply because it IS the best word, and to start substituting makes things even more awkward. A door is a door. How often do people go through portals? If it starts to sound like your digging through a Thesaurus to avoid repeating a "limited function" word, you might be better off repeating it.
One trick to help you find your crutch words in Word is to use the Search function to find them and highlight them, or you can change the font color. They'll certainly jump off the screen. In case you're not familiar with the process, this might help:
In “Edit” on the toolbar, click Find. Then click the box that says Highlight. Then click “More” at the bottom, and you’ll see lots of new options. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might want to check the ‘whole words’ and/or ‘match case’. For example, if you’re looking for “just” but don’t want to find “justify”, check the ‘whole word’ option. If it’s a proper name, you’ll probably want to match the case. Then put the word you’re searching for into the “find” box and click “find all”.
When the search is run, you can click on a color up at the top of your toolbar. You can repeat for a different word using a different color.
A slightly more advanced option is to use the “Replace” function and the formatting options. You put your search word in the ‘find’ box, again deciding if you want any of the other options. But instead of highlighting, click the “Format” option at the bottom. Then choose Font, and choose a font color (it’s in the middle of the pop-up window). Thus, if you’re looking for “just” you can find “just” and replace it with “just” formatted to appear in red. Click replace all, and if you’re like me, you’re manuscript will be peppered with red justs.
And, just for fun, here’s a fun piece that’s been around. The reference I have says it appeared in Reader’s Digest, but I don’t have a reference. If anyone knows its exact origin, feel free to post it in the comments.
We've got a two letter word we use constantly that may have more meanings than any other. The word is up.
It's easy to understand up meaning toward the sky or toward the top of the list. But when we waken, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do participants speak up? Why are the officers up for election? And why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?
Often the little word isn't needed but we use it anyway. We brighten up a room, light up a cigar, polish up the silver, lock up the house and fix up the old car. At other times it has special meanings.
People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, think up excuses and get tied up in traffic. To be dressed is one thing, to be dress up is special. It may be confusing but a drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. We open up a store in the morning and close it up at night. We seem to be mixed up about up.
To be up on the proper use of up, look up the word in your dictionary. In one desk-size dictionary, up takes up half of a page and lists definitions up to about 40.
If you are up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways in which up is used. It will take up a lot of time, but if you don't give up you way wind up with over a thousand.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society