by Terry Odell
I’ve been going through my manuscript, getting it ready to send to my editor. I’ve run checks on overused words and phrases using a program called SmartEdit—which, as always, finds a new one every time. This time it was “about.” But there’s another word I check for.
My high school Latin teacher used to share his opinions on unnecessary words and redundancies. Saying “From its earliest beginnings to it final completion” pushed his buttons. He complained that the word “up” was overused, and often unnecessary. Why say ‘face up to a situation’? To which class clown Leon replied, “So what’s the guy robbing a bank supposed to do? Walk up to the teller and say “This is a stick?”
Leon’s wit notwithstanding, up is a word I run checks on, because it seems to slip off the fingertips without conscious thought—over 300 times in this manuscript—and often can be dispensed with. Here’s an essay we used to use when we were training tutors for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando. I thought I’d share it today.
What’s Up With Up?
“We’ve got a two-letter word we use constantly that may have more meanings than any other. The word is up.
“It is easy to understand up, meaning toward the sky or toward the top of a list. But when we waken, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up? And why are participants said to speak up? Why are officers up for election? And why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?
“The little word is really not 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, but to be dressed 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 in the evening. We seem to be all mixed up about up.
“In order to be up on the proper use of up, look up the word in the dictionary. In one desk-sized dictionary, up takes up half a column; and the listed definitions add 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 may take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with a thousand.”
Frank S. Endicott
Do you have any crutch words that appear on the page all too frequently?