I read a nugget of writing advice that warned about using “weasel words.” Apparently, the weasel sucks the contents out of an egg, leaving the shell intact. The eggless shell looks like every other egg, but it’s useless. “Weasel words” resemble the empty shells because they are perfectly good words, but in the sentence’s context, are empty, useless, and so should be deleted.
I have another snippet of advice. Research. As you can see, the little weasel in the picture obviously cracked the shell and is enjoying his runny egg. Zoology aside, the editing advice stands. And this blog is about three weasel words, or weasel expressions that constantly jump out at me.
I frequently encounter them because they have become part of our speaking pattern. However, if I wrote the way people really speak, no one would enjoy reading the dialogue. “Well, you know, I kinda thought, um, she’d like, you know, really figure out, or whatever, his plan.”
I actually cringe every time I hear someone say “actually.” It’s actually one of the most overused words in our vocabulary.
How about simply: I cringe every time I hear someone say “actually.” It’s one of the most overused words in our vocabulary.
In most cases, I find this adverb unnecessary and adds nothing to the sentence. Like the eggless shell, it’s useless 80% of the time. And, frankly, it bugs me.
At this point in time,
“At this point in time” or “at that point in time,” crops up often in lectures, or when a speaker wants to emphasize when something should or did occur. But I don’t think the “in time” part is necessary. One could say (or write) “at this point” or “at that point.” Better yet, a ferocious editor would just correct it to “now” or “then.”
“At that point in time, Harry discovered his mistake and actually tried to fix it.”
Corrected version: “Then Harry discovered his mistake and tried to fix it.”
I thought to myself,
We all say this. Whether speaking about ourselves or another person (“he thought to himself”) this phrase is more common that dandelions in Spring. Now really, to whom else could you possibly think? A weasel word expression if there ever was one! “I thought” or “he thought” says it all. Full stop.
“At that point in time, Harry discovered his mistake and actually thought to himself that he should try to fix it.”
Corrected to: “Then Harry discovered his mistake and thought he should try to fix it.”
What do you think? Did any sentence devoid of weasel words or expressions lack clarity? Were the corrected sentences less emphatic? Did the writer need any of them? I think sometimes we think a writer should use as many words, and be as flowery as possible, because the writer is, well, writing.
Clearly not. The opposite is true. Another benefit of killing those weasel words is that their demise lowers your word count. This is especially helpful when you are writing something for publication. One of the fastest ways to remain unpublished is to ignore the editor’s designated word count.
I once wrote minute long scripts for a video series. After several drafts, I would read them aloud with a stopwatch. I cut every word that didn’t carry its load, and those weasel words were the first to go.
I’ll bet you will pick up on these expressions in conversations you hear this week. Sorry about that, but welcome to my world.
A huge thank you for reminding us, Sue.
Possibly my biggest beef with today’s spoken language is the overuse of “awesome”. I try to reserve that word for expressing awe to or about Deity.
The Lord alone is the Awesome One. And his works actually deserve our expressions of awe. Actually!
Excellent point, Jerry. Thank you for reminding us that only our God is worthy of awe. Actually!
I actually thought to myself at the te that I read your posting, “She’s actually on to something at this point in time!