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April 01, 2006

Strunk and Light III: What's the point of saying it?

... continued from the last two days ...

III. What’s the point of saying it?
wordlessly: as in But they’re waiting out there for me!” he cried. Wordlessly, she handed him a gun. Generally, the wordlessness of an action is indicated by the lack of words, and does not need to be pointed out. Compare the above sentence with the following: “But they’re waiting out there for me!” he cried. She handed him a gun. Q: What is the difference? A: One has a silly cliché in it, and one does not.
impossibly: as in The man’s nails were impossibly long or The woman’s hair was impossibly curly, both of which I’ve read recently in stories. If the man’s nails are actually that long, then it’s not impossible, is it? If the woman’s hair is really that curly, then it’s not impossible, is it? This adverb had an impact the first time it was used. Now, 5,342,523 reiterations into its life, retire it in favor of something that expresses its actual meaning. And no, switching to “improbably”, as so many are starting to do, won’t fix the problem.
infinitely: see above. This is very often used with “complex” as in Our biosphere is infinitely complex. Uh … no it isn’t. It is very, very complex, but its complexity is finite. And that novel you just read? Its complexity is finite, too. Infinite complexity—or infinite anything—simply does not end. Ever. Okay?
to utilize: is there any reason in the world not to utilize “use” instead? Other than trying to sound schmancy, I mean? I thought not.
to pick one's way: think about it, the only time you don’t pick your way is when you’re blindfolded (or blind) and someone leads you. You always pick your way. If by this you mean “moved slowly, stopping frequently to find a path through the rocky terrain” or “stepped laboriously through the few breaks in the thick underbrush” then say so. If this is more detail than you wanted, then just say “walked carefully” or “went.”
to wend one's way: what does “wend” mean? Without looking it up? Why don’t you just “walk” already? Or “go”? Same with the newest version: “winding one’s path,” which is just a fancy way of getting around “wend”, frankly. Use “go”, “walk” and other such simple, single words instead.
literally: is now being used merely as an amplifier, as in I literally floated up off the ground (which I actually heard someone say regarding her feelings about a new boyfriend.) “Literally” literally means “by the strictest meaning of the words”. The English language literally has no other word or term that expresses “literally”, so losing the literal meaning of “literally” is literally a huge loss. Stop misusing it!
deeply: okay can’t you love someone “a lot” anymore? Can’t you be “very flawed” anymore? Can’t someone just be “moved”? “Deeply” is probably the most overused adverb in the biz. Just saying something’s deep don’t make it so. Find another adverb, or make one up, or skip the adverb altogether.
profoundly: is being used as a stand-in for “deeply” (see above). Think before using either one of these. The problem with using these adjectives is that they ratchet up the meaning of something. There’s disturbed and then there’s deeply disturbed or profoundly disturbed. Why isn’t it enough to just be disturbed? Why does everything have to be more? It’s like a drug tolerance. You’re pushing people’s tolerance of the words up so high they don’t feel the simple words anymore, so you have to give them a cocktail.

In tomorrow's episode: Using things just 'cause they're "in" ...

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Comments

Oh man, I am so tired of that use of "literally" that you mention. If I walk through the mall one more time and hear something like, "Yeah, I literally exploded when she told me," I'm going to literally punch someone in the face.

you're literally not wrong. literally.

Utilize means to use something for "Other" than its intended purpose. …I could not find a knife so I utilized a screwdriver…" In almost all cases 'use' is more correct and should be utilized.

thanks, rikk, i did not know that. can you give an example of where "utilize" would be better than "use"?

Now this I can understand. Using pointless words is just a poor excuse for being descriptive. Unlike in parts I and II which I totally disagree with, I think you are bang on the money here (is that a phrase you disapprove of? What does bang on the money really mean? Who cares? You all know exactly what I am on about so not me :P)

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