Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 14 June 2014

Ironing out those verbal tics, by Jenny Harper

We all have them. One pal overuses 'Absolutely!'.  Another repeatedly describes things as 'poignant' instead of 'pertinent'. Our guide on a recent holiday used the phrase 'Ladies and Gentlemen' so often that it became teeth-grindingly irritating. (After he left the group, it became the biggest joke of the week, so there was a silver lining.)

I think we all have words and phrases we overuse when we write - the trick is to become aware of them, so that we can root them out. A former mentor pointed out that I used the word 'little' far too often. More recently, I was severely taken to task for continually inserting the word 'though' as a qualifier.

There's an amusing way of spotting such irritants. It's called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) Simply copy your entire manuscript into the relevant dialogue box and press a button and - hey presto! - the most commonly occurring words are captured, in the exact proportion they are used, in a graphic word cloud form.

Then you can play with the result, changing the font, colour and patterns to suit yourself.

Here's the word cloud I made for my novel, Loving Susie. You'll see my three main characters there, nice and big, just as they should be. But wait a minute - there's one missing! What has happened to Jonathan, the fourth family member?

It's all right. I finally remembered that I call him, variously, Jonathan, Jon and Jonno, so each name will be a third of the size.

But the important point is that 'little' and 'though' are so insignificant that they barely feature. Phew! Then again, 'something' is worryingly large - I might have to take a look at that.

Here's a wordle of Pride and Prejudice. What was most important to Jane Austen? Well, interestingly, 'love' is small and so are 'marriage' and 'married'. And 'though' is quite prominent!

What words do you find you have to try to avoid when you're writing?




16 comments:

  1. Oh, how fascinating, Jenny. I must have a go on Wordle. I have several words I have to watch out for: just (meaning only); all; so and though tends to creep in frequently - nice to know I'm in good company there. One word I did overuse terribly was that but my tutor on my MLitt course cured me. He had an aversion to the word, which he claimed could almost always be omitted. Using his 'that-ometer ' he found over 300 of them in once chapter. That cured me!

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    1. 300! Brilliant! Yes - another word to be minimised. Have fun with Wordle!

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  2. Now you've got me worried Jenny! I'm pretty sure I use the word 'pretty' meaning fairly way too much. And that's just the beginning of my worries. Off to try the word cloud on the current w.i.p.

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  3. Yes, 'pretty' is easy to overuse. Anyway, the word clouds are great fun - enjoy!

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  4. Ah, Jenny, what fun! I have always been aware that three are some words I overuse (e.g. 'little') and recently have made a conscious attempt to weed them out. When I made a word cloud I was pleasantly surprised. I'm going to try the same with some earlier drafts and see how they compare. :)

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    1. That will be an interesting exercise! Let me know if they've improved - or if you got it right first time.

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  5. That would be a great exercise, Jennifer. I'm pleased everyone is having such fun!

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  6. I'll certainly give this a try,Jenny!

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  7. This sounds like massive fun. Will have a go... later when I've finished my work otherwise I fear I'll never get anything done!!

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    1. But it could be a very worthwhile distraction ...

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  8. I so wanted to try this but wasn't able to because I didn't have something installed, and I got all sorts of warning messages. :o(
    Looks fun, though.

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    1. That's a shame! I don't think it's dangerous...

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  9. Just - as in 'I had just come in the room'. And only - as in 'I only went out for some milk'. Actually, I've just written a story around the overuse of the latter.....wish it luck!

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  10. Oh, Linda, that's funny, especially as you don't use much milk (having black tea and coffee!)
    But not only do writers overuse some little words such as 'just' and 'that', it would appear they have favourite words that pop up in their novels time and again. These words only occur perhaps once, maybe twice, in a book, but they appear in almost all their books. Penelope Lively is fond - or she used to be, I've not read her later works only her early ones - of 'palimpsest' and Angela Huth was rather fond of 'ameliorate'. Those are a couple of words you don't use every day, and perhaps that is why they stood out for me.
    Margaret P

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