Words we love way too much

I have a bad habit of overusing pet words in conversation. Every once in a while I’ll seize on an appealing new word and insert it at every opportunity.

Often I’m unaware of this repetition until someone points it out to me. Usually that someone is my youngest sister. 

“Is ‘draconian’ the new word of the day?” she’ll ask helpfully.  “That’s the third time you’ve used it today.” (I figure her obsessive need to point out my verbal flaws is a youngest sister thing.)

I’ll think back and realize that yes, I have been overdoing draconian. I’m on a draconian diet. The city council passed draconian new trash-day parking fines. And so on.

“Epiphany” is another word I’ve pounded into the dust. If I ever have another epiphany in my lifetime I’ll have to keep it to myself, because that word has been banned in my circle of close friends and relatives. I call them my Beta Chatters.

I’m always looking for signs of Word Repeatus Syndrome in my writing. And I usually find it. I’ve learned to do a global edit for any suspicious words. Suspect words include any that I particularly like. For example, “halcyon” would be a word I’d check, just because I like how it sounds. I’m probably a recidivist repeater of that term.  I’d also check  ‘recidivist’. If the word appears more than two times in the manuscript, or once in a chapter, I rewrite it.

I always check for repetition when a beta reader asks  about the meaning of a word. You can get away with using an unfamiliar word once, but do it twice and you look like you’re trying to be a pretentious know-it-all. (See last Friday’s post).

What about you? Do you have a tendency to overuse favorite words? Do you make a special effort to root them out during edit?

17 thoughts on “Words we love way too much

  1. I didn’t realize I had overused pet words until my beta readers pointed them out. I remember one time I used the word “detritus” twice in a chapter, and my beta readers pointed it out because they had to look it up. I’m glad I’m not alone in this one.


  2. I ALWAYS have a word that keeps popping up in a MS. My wife picks those up. She’ll be reading and I’ll hear her crack up, and I’ll ask, and she’ll tell me what my “favorite” word is for that book. It always differs. Sometimes it’s a repeated action. One book, I remember, characters were always touching other characters on the shoulder. It was less a thriller than some kind of encounter group.

  3. Marveled belongs to me.

    I had no idea how many times my characters wandered around marveling at whatever I thought was astounding at the moment. My beta readers pointed it out.

    Now I search for it ruthlessly during an edit.

    I like draconian, Kathryn – maybe I’ll try it on for a while.

  4. Suddenly, I realized what my favorite word is. But just as suddenly it slipped my mind. Wait, suddenly it’s coming back to me.

  5. Oh yes. Crit partners have pointed overused words out to me many times.

    I find I can hunt them down best when I let my manuscript cold. If I’m looking for them not too long after writing, they’re almost invisible to me.

  6. Oh, yes, I definitely repeat myself . . and what’s worse, it’s not with something intellectual sounding. I repeat dumb, boring words like “turn” and “breathe”.

  7. I have a problem with certain words too. Luckily my editor helps me keep them in check. Words like Redsucklechucker and fleurgebloist are often confusing to readers when not used in the right context. On the other hand a plethora of diddlebops and clicksnickcrickapick can really make things pop.

  8. Actually, in all honesty, I’ve had to struggle to not have one of my main characters, a Persian-American spy named Kharzai, from saying Scooby Doo’s tag line of “Ruh Roh” in every chapter.

  9. Kathryn, I had to laugh out loud at this as echo words are my nemesis. I think I do a dozen searches in my draft for those sort of words I know I’ve overused. My worst offense? “Loom”. The sky loomed, the villain loomed, his face loomed, the trees loomed, a wretched dog loomed. I even think a loom loomed at one point. 2nd offense: the cocking of the head. Not only is it a cliche but it was practically a sport in on my one novels. Onward to diligence in removing repetition!

  10. Oh, here we go now! “Substantive” was an old favorite from my technical writing days. “Sorry. I don’t do substantive,” was my response to the technical wizards complaining about having to fact check the documentation.

    My new one is “subsequently.”

  11. In my writing? Absolutely. I have favorite words, favorite actions (sighed, shrugged, nodded), even favorite drinks (Diet Coke). Like Jim Bell and others, my wife, who is my first reader, sees these and gently reminds me.
    I suppose I could tell her that I’m like Alton Gansky, who says he tries to insert a particular word into the manuscript of every novel he writes. (This was true a couple of years ago–may not be now, but you might look for “macadam” in his books).
    Thanks for the post. Nice to know I’m not alone.

  12. These posts made me smile. I particularly note the issue of repeated gestures. My WIP has had, at various times, more nodding than a bobblehead factory. It feels like weeding a garden as I go through andintermittently root them out.

  13. Repeated gestures are another whole pack of woes, lol! How about we make an agreement amongst ourselves: we solemnly swear to hereby ban all grins, nods, cocked or lifted eyebrows, tilted heads, and lifted glasses from which our characters take slow, cosidering sips? Spare the world some pain!

  14. I love the constanting “looming.” My characters flush and blush at every turn and their eyes are constantly widening over something. That must hurt after a while. Buncha namby-pamby prudes.



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