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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Monday, July 28, 2008


Did my character use a Kleenex? Perhaps it was a Puffs...

When my protagonist reached for a tissue to dry her eyes in a scene in the young adult novel I'm writing, I first wrote the word "Kleenex." I knew I needed to use tissue, but I wanted to be specific. I wanted to write Kleenex. I could visualize her hand reaching for the boutique box, pink in color, and pull a perfect pink Kleenex-brand tissue out of the cardboard square.

But could I write Kleenex? Or did I need to use the generic form of the word?

Truth be told, many generic-sounding words and phrases are trademarked brand names. And if your household is like mine, we substitute the brand name for the generic form quite often. Perfect example: Can you google how to raise brussel sprouts?

Writers can use trademarked words, but make sure you use them correctly. Check and double check spellings and capitalizations prior to penning those words on the page.

It's also a good rule to avoid specific product names if you are using it as a generic term.

A great resource to check out is the International Trademark Association. The organization offers a list of trademarked words and phrases, and I've found additional information on the site that I've to put good use in my non-fiction writing.

So the next time you are faced with a trademark vs. generic word choice, consider checking out the INTA site and decide if the choice strengthens your writing or if a generic serves as a sound substitute.

As for me, I'm going to grab a Cheez Whiz sandwich, go outside and twirl the Hula Hoop around my waist for awhile (it's great exercise) and then hit the Jacuzzi.

Or maybe I what I really need to say is I'm going to grab a processed cheese spread sandwich, go outside and twirl a plastic toy hoop around my waist for awhile and then hit the whirlpool bath (which is really a plastic kiddie pool).

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