Words to Avoid

Leroy HuizengaBlog1 Comment

I grade a lot of papers, and read a lot of popular and academic stuff. This makes me an observer of linguistic trends, I suppose. I enjoy thinking about language, and I believe good writing matters. A third of my dissertation dealt with the philosophy of language from a semiotics and narrative perspective, and in the process of writing a diss as well as other academic things I really found myself thinking about good writing and how to become a better writer.
I also happen to have perfect pitch, which has made me a decent amateur musician. (I play about ten different instruments, I think.) And when I hear a sour note, even if it’s just slightly off, it hurts. I’m hypersensitive to acoustic beauty that way, by nature. By nurture I’m hypersensitive to good and bad writing and speaking. I don’t claim to be a great writer or speaker — my editors save my authorial bacon routinely — but my ears and eyes are good at identifying barbarisms. And so, some of my least favorite words:
Impact, impacted, impactful, and impactfully. A horror of the first rank. I am not sure when it crawled out of Tartarus or why people feel free to employ it, but it seems to be about five years old. The problem is that “impact” suggests something indiscriminate, whereas usually when people employ this term they really mean they’ve been affected in some precise way, or that something has had a great effect. Use some form of “affect” instead, unless one is speaking of asteroids, auto accidents, or bowels.
Referencing, to reference. A noun masquerading as a verb. Use “refer to” or “make reference to.”
Hugely. Avoid adverbs in principle and opt for colorful, precise verbs. If you must use adverbs, don’t use this one.
Aggravating. A particular vice of those from the upper Midwest, I remember my father talking about being “aggravated” or something irritating him being “aggravating.” Use (as I just did) a version of irritate.

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