Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Silly Little Things

I'm kicking off the blogmester  with lexical habits we should kick! Topping the list are puns like the one I just used.

Ok, if you have a penchant for puns, and direly need them in your life, that's fine - I can't change you. Overused puns are hardly a pressing matter, just an irksome one. Don't be confused, though, by the many raised eyebrows, eye-rolls and other eye-proximate facial expressions that people are shooting at you (yes, shooting).

More salient is the ubiquitous use of everyday words in a way that disregards their intended use and their most fitting context. They're words that slip in and out of colloquial speech haphazardly. As speakers, we have transplanted them into so many contexts, that we often stray from their actual meaning. And as speakers, we can get away with that. As business writers, however, it is a cause for distraction. Not because misused words are an offence to the Queen's English -- linguistic purity is not the goal here -- but rather because they offend clarity of meaning.

Even in 2011, clarity and sense should be the quintessential sisters of business writing.

So here they are, the viral perpetrators. Let's call them,
SILLY LITTLE WORDS (inspired by the book Grammar Grams, by Stephen K. Tollefson):

basically - In speech, we use it as a loose connector, flying everywhere, or to help us go into an explanation ('Basically, CBC is awesome because...') In writing, it can dull the formality and freshness of your text. Opt instead for essentially, ultimately, in effect, and only when you must point to a 'so what?'

actually - This is basically's spoiled cousin.

real - as in, 'a real big problem.' The word is more of a problem. Use instead considerably, or simply very.

etc. - More appropriate for memos or lists, and less so for extensive reports and research papers. Go with and so on, and other concerns...

factor -  This is the word that tries too hard. Reason, cause, consideration are all good, humble substitutes for the less scientific portions of your text.

reportedly - You are reporting it, so it's redundant. Or if you read about it, it has been reported, so it's redundant. It's a 'duh' word.

correlate - Is relate what you mean? A smaller word can often carry your meaning more clearly, without confounding the reader.

And here's something as silly as these words, from http://tpdsaa.tumblr.com/. Recognize the symptom?