9 posts categorized "strunk & light"

May 06, 2009

Today's Linguistic Pet Peeves

predominately: I've been seeing this one in newspapers! Folks, it's predominantly. Two different words: to predominate, which is a verb, and predominant, which is an adjective. You get the adverb by adding an "ly" to the adjective. I don't know how to make this one any clearer; it gets to the heart of the logic of parts of speech. "Predominately" makes no grammatical sense. That is all.

shrunk and sunk: used as past tense, as in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, or My heart sunk. (The correct setences are Honey, I shrank the kids. and My heart sank.) Shrunk and sunk are past participles. The past tense form of each word is shrank and sank. Shrink shrank shrunk. I shrink the kids every day. Yesterday, I shrank the kids. In the past, I have shrunk the kids, but that time is over. Why does this bother me so much? No idea.

April 16, 2008

Can I Just Reiterate My Hate?

... for the following, popular (and in most cases, incorrect) terms and usages?

  • garner: as in her novel garnered praise. Yuck. This is only used to talk about pop culture reviews. Why would you use a word that only refers to pop culture reviews? Pop culture reviews are disgusting and pointless. I should know, I write a lot of them. But I never garner. I NEVER garner. Nor should you.
  • (noun or pronoun) and I: used accusatively or datively. I'm fine with You and I went to the store, since that is, in fact, correct. But Do you want Keanu and I to bring anything to your luau? is right out, because it's wrong. Whenever you're about to do this, stop, and remove the "______ and" part and just leave the "I" part. Then, if it sounds right, go ahead. If it sounds wrong, fix it. I went to the store is clearly right. Do you want I to bring anything to your luau? is clearly wrong, unless you're from the Caribbean.
  • beg the question: used to mean raise the question. Raising the question is exactly what it sounds like. Begging the question is a silly, hoity-toity philosophy thing that nobody understands. It has something to do with circular arguments, and doesn't have an object. That is to say, you can't "beg the question that _______," you can only "beg the question."
  • ... is, is that ...: as in The reason is, is that I don't ever think before I speak. People, people, there's only ever one "is" in a sentence. Yes there are exceptions but YOU will never need them. The reason is COMMA that I actually do know what I am talking about. God, that drives me nuts! Where did the second "is" come from?
  • peak: instead of "peek" or "pique." People, a "peak" is a high, pointy thing, like at the top of a mountain or a hairdo. "To peek" is to take quick, stealthy glance. "To pique" is a French word meaning to anger or to excite or arouse a feeling in someone. So when you're writing your personals ad, you should write, Your post about your pink, patent-leather dungeon piqued my interest. A movie preview is a "sneak peek."
  • cut and dry: arrrggghh! It's cut and dried, people! Past Tense! The past tense of "cut" is "cut." It means something is set, determined, will not grow or change. As in flowers that have been cut and dried. If you say "cut and dry," that's present tense, it's a command. Basically you're TELLING someone to go cut and dry whatever it is that you're talking about. That makes no sense! Arrrggghhh!

July 26, 2006

Strunk and Light Addendum

Yes, people continue to offend me with their bad English usage. Bad people! Bad!

to proffer: there is absolutely no reason to use "proffer" instead of "offer", unless it is to drive me batshit.

priveledge or priviledge: both of which spellings are wrong. It is "privilege", without a "d". And let me just say here that it's pretty ironic that this is one of the misspellings that best announces someone's class and educational privilege.

thusly: "thusly" was originally coined as a humorous term, but I'm starting to see it used seriously a lot. "Thus" is already an adverb, so adding an "ly" to the end of it is unnecessary and incorrect.

prolly: for "probably". I don't actually object to this, personally. In fact, I've never seen it outside emails and blog entries. But I'm gonna take Wendy's word for it.

equally as: as in My coffee is equally as strong as your coffee. "Equally" and "as" serve the same function in this sentence. They are both adverbs, modifying the adjective "strong". They are both comparative. Listen:

My coffee is equally strong as your coffee.
My coffee is as strong as your coffee.

The first sentence is correct, but awkward, because we are used to using the "as blank as" construction when comparing. If you want to emphasize the "equally", it's best to reconstruct the sentence thus: My coffee and your coffee are equally strong. Can you tell what I'm drinking as I write this?

"blank and blank" constructions: like "above and beyond" the call of duty, or "each and every" one of you. People like these constructions because "blank and blank" is euphonious and rhythmic. Too often a particular euphony, a fashionable euphony, takes over the airwaves and everyone loses sight (or sound) of the music of simplicity. Choose one word and go with it. This belongs to the category of things needlessly superlativized. Just trust the single word to mean what it means without having to call a crowd of words in for backup.

curling up: to read. Why do we only ever "curl up" to read? Why do we always "curl up" to read? Is there no other possible reading posture?

self-identity: um ... identity is self. "Identity" refers to self. My identity means my idea of myself. It does not mean my idea of anyone else. "Self-identity" is not just redundant, it's dumb. Use the one or the other.

to hail: for anything other than "to greet" or "to get someone's attention". You do not "hail from" somewhere. You may be from somewhere, but you don't stand there and yell out greetings to people (do you?) And critics don't "hail" books. Books can't hear. This is something of a dead metaphor, trying to create the image of an audience of critics loudly acclaiming a book with greeting-like noises. But they're not really doing it, you know, and it's become a meaningless cliché. Say goodbye to it.

dilemma: does not mean "problem". It's from Greek di (two) lemma (proposition), which means that you are faced with a choice between two propositions. Do I marry Vin Diesel for love and money, or do I save the world by becoming Dubya's mistress and exerting my powers of mind control on him? It's a dilemma! "How to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "How to get my teenager to stop drinking" is not a dilemma, it's a problem. "I only have enough money to send me or my teenager to rehab" is a dilemma. Got it?

April 05, 2006

Strunk and Light VI: Incorrect (biatch)!

... *sigh* continuing continuation of continuity ...

VI. Incorrect!
erstwhile: does not mean “false”. You’re thinking of ersatz. Ersatz (from the German, meaning “replacement”) means “false” or “fake” or “imitation” or “substitute”, as in No Postum for me, thanks. I don’t drink ersatz coffee. Erstwhile (from the German “erst”, meaning “first” or “once”) means “former”, as in When my erstwhile husband remarried, I sent him a dozen dead roses, the bastard.
prophesized: the past tense of “to prophesy” is prophesied, pronounced “PROFF-eh-SIGHED” No “z”.
travesty: does not mean “outrage”. “Travesty” means a mocking imitation of. So something can’t just be a travesty. It has to be a travesty of something. People use “travesty” to mean “outrage” because of the overused expression “travesty of justice”, which means “mocking imitation of justice” and is used to express moral outrage. Best not to use the word at all.
enormity: does not mean “enormousness”. It means “extreme wickedness”. The enormity of the crime therefore means the extreme wickedness of the crime and not the enormous size of the crime.
to hone in on: the expression is “homing in on”, as in using a homing signal to find your way home. To hone means to sharpen, as in honing a knife or honing a skill. The fact that so many people get this wrong means that the metaphor is gone. Don’t use it.
to jive with: the expression is “jibe with”, meaning “agree with” as in His notions don’t jibe with mine. Jive is a type of music and dancing, or an archaic slang term for bullshit, as in Don’t hand me that jive, honky.
to step foot: the actual expression is “to set foot”, as in The moment he sets foot in this house, all hell will break loose. Think about it. To “set a foot” down = to “step”. The verb “to step” is intransitive, which means that you can’t give it an object. You can’t step a foot, you can only step. You either step into the house, or you set foot in the house, not both.
to wax: used for “to speak” as in I waxed eloquently, or the unintentionally hilarious I could wax on about the late nights…, both of which I’ve read recently. “To wax” means to increase, to grow or to become. Think of the moon waxing and waning. You know what “wane” means, right? To decrease? So “wax” means the opposite: to increase. The incorrect use of “to wax” for “to speak” comes from the expression “to wax eloquent” (not “eloquently”!) which means “to become eloquent” or “to grow eloquent”. Think of a waxing moon: someone beginning to speak and then becoming full with their own eloquence as they speak. Since so many people are getting this wrong, the original meaning is dead. Don’t use it.
startled: don’t use “startled” to mean “surprised” or “astonished.” These are not the same! The surprise meant in “startled” is very specific: it is a sudden shock. Someone jumps out at you and yells “boo!” or you hear a gunshot outside. You “start” or jerk in surprise. You are not “startled” by how good that novel you are reviewing was. You are surprised. You are not “startled” by how enormous and expensive the Boeing Company’s executive toilet is. You are astonished. This started as a startling way of saying surprise. It was so startling that everybody started using it and now no one starts at it. Stop.
one in the same: if you think about it, this expression doesn’t make any sense. That’s because the expression is “one and the same”. Clark Kent and Superman are one. Clark Kent and Superman are the same. Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.
the reason is because: “the reason is” is the same thing as “because”. Why do people have such bad grammar? Well, the reason is that American schools suck. Why do people have such bad grammar? Because American schools suck, dude! “The reason is because” is redundant. Use either “the reason is that”, or “because”, not both.
whilst: just means “while”, only it’s a British English version. If you’re American, you shouldn’t be using it at all, because American English uses “while” and the only reason an American would use it would be to sound more British and that’s just pretentious, unless of course you’re writing in “dialect”. If you’re a Brit, you shouldn’t be using this guide, because some of the spelling and grammar don’t apply to you.
“it’s” and “its”:
---it’s: is a CONTRACTION of “it is”. It’s a shame that I have to spell this out.
---its: is the possessive of “it”. Every apostrophe should be in its proper place
And while you’re at it, the possessive of “her” is “hers”, no apostrophe. Likewise, the possessive of “our” is “ours”; of “your” is “yours”; of “their” is “theirs” No apostrophe. Why? Dunno. Don’t care.
“kind of” and “should’ve”:
---“should have” is contracted to “should’ve”. It sounds like “should of” but it’s not spelled that way. Same with could’ve, would’ve, etc.
---“kind’ve” on the other hand, is wrong. It’s “kind of”. This is a colloquialism that arises from the construction: A pretzel is a kind of bread or Goulash is a sort of soup. You say “kind of” or “sort of” to mean “in a way”.
“discrete” and “discreet”: don’t mix ‘em up. They’re two discrete words. Be discreet rather than use them incorrectly.
---“discrete” means “separate” or “individually distinct” as in He funneled the funds into two discrete off-shore accounts: one under his name and one under his wife’s name.
---“discreet” means “tactful” or “circumspect” as in I want my off-shore banker to be discreet about the way I handle my funds.
“averse” and “adverse”: I most commonly hear/see people using “adverse” when they mean “averse” as in: “I am not adverse to going shopping with you using your credit card.” The correct word here is “averse” as in: “I am not averse to going shopping with you …”
---averse means “opposed” or “disinclined” and is related to “aversion” as in: I am averse to the practice of misusing language.
---adverse means “contrary” or “hurtful” and is related to “adversity” as in: I find that misuse of language in published texts has an adverse effect on readers’ writing skills.
phenomenon/phenomena: “phenomenon” is singular, “phenomena” is plural. Misusing words of Latin origin is a common phenomenon. Such phenomena occur everywhere that English is spoken.
criterion/criteria: see above. Same deal.

Well, that's all (for now) folks. I hope you have enjoyed this public service announcement. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

April 03, 2006

Strunk and Light V: Ugh!

... cont. from ... yeah ... well ...

V. Ugh!
to pad: ugh! Just …ugh! Why would you want to use this? Just say “walked barefoot” or “walked softly wearing only her socks,” or if that’s too much detail for you, then just “walked” or “went”.
to sport: people don’t “sport” things, they wear them. What does “sporting” something mean, anyway? Why “sport”? Do you know? Why do you use it? You sound clichéd. Yuck!
to munch: note, this is not “to munch on”, which is bad enough. But people are now using “to munch” to replace “to eat”, as in He munched his sandwich in the car. Did you guys notice that it’s onomatopoeic? It sounds like what it’s saying. Eeeeeeww. Normally, you’re supposed to make things vivid in your writing, but I don’t wanna hear people chewing! No!
the swell of her breast: argh! Ptui! If you can’t do sex or desire better than this, then you’d better not do it at all. And if you think that you can “cup her breast” or “enter her”, then while yer at it, why don’t you just “stroke his length”, too. Eew. (side note: I wouldn’t mind bringing back “throbbing member” if anyone has the stones.)
to perch: birds “perch,” humans don’t. If you want to indicate that someone is balanced in a high position then use “perch” if you must. Otherwise, use “stand” or “sit” or “crouch” or “lie” or whatever. Anything but the overused “perch.” And especially not “perched atop”!!!!! Ugh! No hats perched atop people’s heads! No! And especially no people sporting hats perched atop their heads! Just kill me now if you’re going to do that!
to poke gentle fun: if yer gonna poke something … well don’t poke fun anyway. Make fun of, if you want to, or mock. Yeah! Go ahead and mock, please. But don’t poke fun, and whatever you do, don’t make it, by God, gentle. Eew.
belly: I have no outright objection to this word for its own sake, only it’s so outrageously overused, and overused in the apparent belief that it is more “poetic” than “stomach” or “abdomen” or “tummy” or “midriff” or “gut” or “paunch” or “midsection”… or my favorite slang stand-in, “pooch”. The word is especially popular among women. Think on this: they even named a girl indie-rock band from the early nineties “belly”. It’s not more poetic, it’s more clichéd. And it’s gross now.
to craft: Okay, dude, I know yer, like, sooper precious about the fact that writing is a craft and not, like, just plain “work”, but “craft” really isn’t a verb. I mean, it is now, what with all these people writing that He has crafted a tale of astounding beauty ‘n’ all, but really, you don’t need to point this out ad extreme nauseam. Use “make” or “create” or “write” or “sew” or “paint” or “direct” or whatever verb specifically refers to the action that created the thing and isn’t grossly smarmy.
to pen: it’s supposed to mean “to enclose with a fence” but it’s now being used to mean “to write”, as in He penned a poem of exquisite delicacy. This is especially icky and smarmy given the fact that more and more writers nowadays don’t actually compose with a pen. Just be kind to me and write “to write”. Please.

Next time: stuff that's just wrong ...

April 02, 2006

Strunk and Light IV: Using it just to use it

... continued from before, dude ...

IV. Using it just to use it.
to persist: yes, I know, there’s no other verb that does the exact same job. There are circumstances in which the only word available is “to persist”. However, that doesn’t explain why the word is popping up so persistently these days. I don’t think humanity, or humanity’s ills, have somehow gotten more persistent in the past decade or so. This is a perfect example of the word that justifies its own use. You see other people using it. It strikes you as a cool word. The next time you have the opportunity to use it—i.e., the next time persistence looms on the horizon—you create a sentence especially to contain the verb “persist”. Of course, once the sentence, or paragraph, is down on paper, it’s difficult to revise out, because there’s no other word that perfectly fits in that space. You’d have to rewrite the sentence, or the paragraph, to express the thought a different way. Sound hard? Do it anyway.
spatter vs. splatter: I’m checking in here in favor of “splatter”, which now connotes a rather low-art feel (as in “splatter films”), and is currently being underused or outright ignored. “Spatter” on the other hand, is enjoying a sort of high-art poetic vogue, like “belly” or “tiny” or “deft”. In fact “spatter” is becoming so popular, that I’m actually seeing people spattering things in their stories just so they get to use the word “spatter” (i.e. not to advance the story). Do we really need that much spilling and throwing and stabbing and painting? Plus, “splatter” is a cool word, probably originating in the combination of “splash” and “spatter”. Get with it.
to trace: Another word that is affecting the actions of characters. Before the vogue for tracing, characters would just look longingly at photographs. Now, in both books and movies, they put their dirty, smudgy fingers directly on the photos and trace the outlines of the figures therein depicted. This is somehow produces more pathos than looking, which is, by the way, what photographs are for. Photographs don’t actually reward tracing, a fact never mentioned in the cliché-artist’s prose. Plus, artist characters don’t “draw”, “outline” or even “limn” naked bodies anymore. They “trace” them, which in my day was considered cheating. And following someone’s path, either literally or metaphorically? Tracing. Must we trace paths? Can’t we “tail”, “trail”, “chase”, “pursue” or “follow” things anymore?
pithy: no, no, I believe you that this word actually has a meaning. Only … well, the problem is, although I’ve looked it up over and over again, the meaning of this word won’t stick in my head. Why? Because it’s one of those words that doesn’t have a context. No one ever writes that something is pithy and then follows it up with a description of the pithiness. People just say “it’s pithy” and leave it at that. If the single word is the only thing in the piece of writing that says what it says, well then you’re not doing your job as a writer. Another word for “resonance” (in language, anyway) is “redundancy”, strange as it may sound.
eschatological: no, people really aren’t using this word too much at all. It’s just that writing about “pithy” above made me think of the other word whose meaning I simply cannot make stick in my head. What am I trying to say? I think I’m trying to say that either you put these words into sentences that make their meaning clear in context, or you don’t use them. Kapeesh?

Next time: stuff that's just gross...

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" ...

March 31, 2006

Strunk and Light II: Just Stop It!

... continued from yesterday ...

II. Just Stop It! Cliché already!
atop: especially “perched atop”. It’s been a good 200 years since anyone really used this in conversation or in anything other than fiction and poetry. It’s archaic and therefore pretentious and doesn’t belong in the written language anymore. Just say “on top of”.
save: for "except for", e.g.: I told no one about the gold, save my best friend. Same as “atop”. Would you ever use this word when speaking or writing an email? I hope not (‘cause if you would, you’d be pretentious.) just use “except for”.
to don and to doff: for “to put on” and "to take off" as in I donned my parka, I doffed my hat. See the two above entries, you pretentious bad writer you. You don’t don shit. Come on!
deft (esp. in criticism): currently the most overused word in America, by my unofficial survey. Here are some alternatives: skillful, sensitive, adroit, adept, subtle, dexterous, precise, neat, clever, able.
to battle disease: why can’t people “fight” or “contest” or “defy” or “stand up to” or “wrestle with” or “contend with” cancer? Why do people always “battle” diseases? It’s not really even a verb.
tiny: especially with reference to one’s children, as in “my tiny daughter” (which I’ve seen five different writers use recently, because apparently a tiny daughter is more moving than a small one). What ever happened to “small”? It’s like reverse Starbucks, where the smallest size is called “tall” so there’s basically nowhere to go but fake-talian. “Tiny” is actually smaller than “small”, and yet people are using “tiny” instead of “small” so there’s no way to get any smaller without using adverbs (really, really tiny.) Try using “small” first, then, when small doesn’t do it, go on down to “miniscule” or “microscopic” or “miniature” or “petite” or “diminutive.” Yeah.
to grace the cover of: a magazine or book. You can just “be on” or “appear on” the cover of something. Your presence on the cover of something isn’t always a grace.
slim volume: especially if it’s poetry. You might not have gotten the memo, but poetry is permitted to appear in “books” now. And when was the last time you saw a book of poetry (that wasn’t an anthology or collection) that wasn’t “slim”? I’ve also seen “slender” gaining ground on the volume front. What ever happened to “thin”, “narrow”, “short”, “brief”, “trim”, “slight” or “lean”? Or just not mentioning the thickness of the book? By the way, there’s also a version of this for unpublished poetry as well: “a slim sheaf of poems”. Why are manuscripts of poetry always “sheafs”? Why can’t they be just, plain “manuscripts”? Or how about “stacks”, “bundles”, “bunches” or “piles”? And why do people always have only “slim” sheafs of their own poetry? Could it be because they’re such cliché-beset poets that they have to throw most of their poems out?
a wealth of: as in a wealth of information. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still relatively evocative, if only because we live in a capitalistic society where wealth is a metaphor for everything not covered by militaristic metaphors. But it’s overused now. Really. Just say “a lot of” or something.

Next time on Strunk and Light: What's the point of saying it?

March 30, 2006

Strunk and Light I: Think About It

"Strunk and Light" is a list of my pet cliché peeves that I keep as a part of my own writing practice. I find that once I've listed something in Strunk and Light, I'm much, much less likely to use it unthinkingly in the generative flow of new writing. It keeps me thinking about language in a much more precise and awake manner. I also gave a list to my students when I was teaching. They took it without commentary, because they were students. However, I expect people who are not my students to disagree. Go ahead! Just remember, this is just my opinion of what is overused or clichéd. The list is long, so I'll be posting it in several segments over the next few days.

Words and expressions go in and out of fashion, just like accessories. Word trends last longer than clothing trends, but they work in exactly the same way: someone goes looking for something distinctive to wear on the page, and finds a word or expression that has such a good effect that all the hipsters in the immediate vicinity pick up on it. Soon the word-accessory is the latest thing in writing, the thing that marks its user as a member of the avant garde. The moment the generality of writers realizes this, the word-accessory’s usefulness – as a hip-defining element, and as a fresh, revealing expression – is gone.

Unfortunately, it takes the generality of writers forever to realize this themselves, so its use drags on and on, becoming more and more degraded until you find it tainting every other page on the bookshelves at Walmart. The thing about word-accessories is that they creep into your wardrobe through your half-conscious mind, and often, you don’t even know you’re wearing them. Be aware. Start your own list.


I. Think about it.
to root through: think about it. What exactly is it about a root (tree root for example) that suggests searching through filing cabinets, or your purse? Why did the noun “root” get turned into such a verb? The original metaphor here is suggested by animals digging through roots for food. Think of a pig snuffling around tree roots after truffles. Think about Roto-rooter. Is this really the image you want to convey?
to throw one’s head back and laugh: try it. Right now. Throw your head back and laugh. It’s actually kind of hard to really laugh in that position—your windpipe has a tendency to get cut off. This is a very affected gesture, the kind that flirting women make in bars. It’s demonstrative of “I’m bursting out in delighted laughter,” and not a natural gesture. Also a cliché that bluff, hearty men in genre fiction fall into. Use advisedly, or not at all.
to slip: being used in place of “put on” as in I slipped into a pair of jeans. This term is supposed to refer to the action of sliding, being slippery, being quick and stealthy, but is now used for all actions that refer to putting clothes on. Not all putting on of clothes is slippy. You shouldn’t slip into jeans – they take time and are awkward to get into. One leg, two legs, pull up, zipper, button. You should slip into something more comfortable—maybe something with no fasteners (please!) Actually, this is also being used in place of “to go” as in She slipped out of the room or The sun slipped behind a cloud. The verb “to go” is nearly invisible and you should use it unless you can find a good reason not to.
"I found myself ...": the only time you should use this is if the character has multiple personality disorder and has just switched personalities mid-action. When you go and do something, you don’t “find yourself” doing it. You already knew you were doing it because, well, you’re doing it. This is a construction people use to avoid having to explain their characters’ motivations (also known as bad writing.) How did your protagonist end up doing this morally ambiguous thing? I dunno, he just found himself doing it. (Yes, yes, I know, sometimes you just zone out. But really, don’t use it.)
shock of hair: no, really, what is a “shock of hair”? is it a brush that sticks up? Or is it wild and wooly, a ‘fro? Or is it long and straight? Or is it dyed? Is a mohawk a shock of hair? A bowl cut? Is a tonsure? What do you see when you hear “shock of hair”? What do your readers see? What’s the origin of this word? Do you know? Are you sure?
helmet of hair: is overused and not really very accurate or detailed enough. Does it mean the surface of the hair is smooth like a helmet, or that the cut is shaped like a helmet, or that the hair is big enough to look the size of a helmet? (Plus, just, yuck.)
fist: as in, carrying something in your fist. Think about it. What is a fist? It’s a tightly closed hand, used for punching or strong gestures. The connotation of “fist” is violence, tension. You only hold something in a “fist” if the hand is closed tightly, and if you want to indicate violence or tension. Don’t use it just ‘cause everyone else does. (this goes double for “tiny fist” or “meaty fist,” and if you’re gonna “clutch” something, don’t you dare do it in your fist!)
to carve out: when used metaphorically. I just read recently that manga has “carved out a parallel market”. Uh, how do you carve out a market? “To carve” means to shape a form by removing material with a sharp instrument. “To carve out” means to remove material to make a hollow space. The metaphoric expression is an extension of to carve out a niche, a niche being actually an empty space in an otherwise solid structure. But the term is now being used, unthinkingly, to mean “to create”. “To create” usually means to put material together where there was no material before—so it’s almost the opposite of “to carve out” (which means to remove material.) This stupidity means the metaphor is dead. Don’t use the expression at all.
to negotiate: as in: He negotiated the sharp switchbacks of the mountain path. Think about this one, It’s a metaphor: negotiation is a give and take process between two parties who have different agendas. Things are offered and turned down and taken back and modified. There’s a back and forth. “Negotiating” sharp switchbacks means that your way is difficult and you have to try to move forward, and move back, and try again a different way. It’s a metaphor for a slow, difficult, back-and-forth process. Nowadays, though, it’s being used directly to mean “to move through” or “to manage”. The metaphor is dead. Don’t use it.
to navigate: used similarly to “negotiate” to mean moving through a psychological or social terrain. This is originally from Latin: “ship” and “to lead”, and means, at its base, to direct a ship’s movements. This is an obvious metaphor for any kind of movement through a space that requires skill. However, it’s terribly overused, to the point that it’s time for a new metaphor or expression. Try something else.

... in our next installment, things you can stop saying now ... please ...

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