Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Words We LOVE to Overuse

by LuAnn Schindler

Read through your writing, and you will undoubtedly find a word, several words, or even phrases you tend to repeat. For those of us who write on a daily basis, the practice of penning the same word in the majority of our stories may seem like happenstance.

Or maybe it plays out like the movie Groundhog Day - no matter how we try to cut the word, it keeps popping up in our writing And then we begin a new day, with a new goal or assignment, and guess what happens? That's right. There's the pesky word or phrase, taunting us, daring us to strike it from the page.

It happens to the best of writers as often as it occurs with the novices. Recently, I flipped through a handful of poems I was contemplating for a contest entry. In three of the five, one word and one phrase glared at me and begged for a fresh reprieve.

At first I thought it was a coincidence, but then I scanned my memory bank and remembered what was happening in my life at that time. I understood why those words and the connotations stood out.

But a quarter-life crisis doesn't excuse a writer from overusing a word. No, I'll keep that until I reach my three-quarter life crisis (which, luckily, is still close to 30 years away!).

Yesterday, a New York Times standards editor instructed Times reporters to delete the word 'famously' from their vocabulary. Precision is necessary, and 'famously' doesn't always create a sense of preciseness.

Like most of you, I have a personal list of words that make me cringe when I see them in print. I could share the entire list, but I'm afraid some readers may not have all day to peruse my laundry list of pet peeves associated with writing vocabulary.

Sure, many of them are basic grammar errors that can be easily solved.

But some words, like 'love' and 'hate' bother me. When writers overuse emotional words that have a strong meaning, the words become watered down and run off the page, splashing into a puddle of jumbled letters that simply want to be rescrambled and formed into new words.

When that happens, a writer loses the connection she's established with readers. She alienates potential clients when she chooses to fill the page with overused, often misused, terms. Yes, say what you mean, but be precise! Love the new fill-in-the-blank-NYT-bestselling-author's-name-here book, you say. Love it! Love it?

No, tell me how you really feel about it.

Tell me the truth and tell me precisely why you enjoy it.

What words are on your overused (or often misused) list?

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Friday, July 18, 2008


The 'L' Word - Overused or Overrated?

by LuAnn Schindler

I love my husband.

I love my family and friends.

I love nachos with jalepeno peppers piled high on top of the melted cheese served with a side of guac.

In each of the sentences above, there is a distinct degree of difference in the meaning of the word "love". In sentence number one, I love my husband; he is my life partner and I trust him completely.

In sentence number two, I love my family and friends, but it is not the same kind of love expressed in sentence number one. These are caring relationships too, but they don't elicit the same feelings as the love expressed in the first sentence.

Sentence number three stands apart from the others. Why? OK, I admit that I don't really love nachos; I enjoy eating them. I like them. And no, I'm not going to marry them (the proverbial answer to the question always asked by my kids).

My "love" for nachos provided new insight into amor. In a query, I used sentence number three to illustrate a point about cravings. A few weeks later, I received an offer from the editor; however, she had "the talk" with me about using the 'L' word. And after contemplating her words, I have to agree: the 'L' word is overused and therefore, it becomes overrated because one can never truly tune in on the intended degree of love.

When writers constantly use the word "love" as an expression when the real intent focuses on liking something, the true meaning of the word losses significance. In a culture that loves pizza, loves how a certain pair of jeans make us look in the mirror, and loves celebrity gossip, perhaps we, as writers, need to take that editor's words to heart.

I decided to experiment with the editor's premise. After perusing a copy of a popular woman's magazine targeted at 20-somethings, I found 78 instances of the word "love" in articles, headlines, and captions. The word was only used correctly four times. Love loses its impact when you are bombarded with it.

One of my college English profs used to bark at my creative writing class, "Write what you mean." By using accurate words that show the emotional connection we're establishing with the topic we're writing about, our writing will only become better. And readers will certainly like it.

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