Banished Words 2020
One of my final editing tasks is removing overused words. I have my list of offenders, and I run the manuscript through SmartEdit, which will find more I was unaware of.
But “overused” can’t be decided based solely on number of uses. It depends on the word.
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, 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.
Big “fancy” words, or “unusual” 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. I recall an author using halcyon repeatedly, and it made me stop after the second time.
Recently, one of my critique partners asked about my use of libation, bringing up an important point. How many characters used the term? Often, it’s good to have specific vocabulary words used by specific characters.
While I’m looking at my repeated words, 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. Not a rule, just something I consider.
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.
There are other words one might want to avoid. Every year, Lake Superior State University publishes its “Banished Words List” of words based on misuse, overuse, and general uselessness. Their list for 2020 contains the following.
- quid pro quo
Words that attempt to make something more than it is
Words banished for pretentiousness or imprecision
- I mean
- Living my best life
Those darn millennials!
- Jelly (Abbreviation of jealous)
- Totes (Abbreviation of totally)
- Vibe/vibe check
To see why these were selected, go here.
What about you? Any words that jump out at you when you’re reading, either mundane or unusual?