Faffy Words

Batjutsu left a comment on my last post asking for other examples of words that may well be superfluous. This is often a matter of style and narrative voice, so consistency of application is more important than anything. Being a busy (some would say lazy) writer, to help out I’ve gratuitously stolen the following list from Marc Gascoigne, Overlord of Angry Robot and former Head of Black Library. Much of this applies more to journalistic writing than to prose, but it’s worth bearing in mind even with stories and novels.

REDUNDANT PHRASES

Twelve noon/twelve midnight………………………..Noon/midnight

A total of X items………………………………………….X items

Circle around……………………………………………….Circle

Close proximity…………………………………………… Proximity

Completely unanimous………………………………….Unanimous

Consensus of opinion…………………………………….Consensus

Cooperate together……………………………………….Cooperate

Each and every…………………………………………….Each (or every)

Enclosed herewith………………………………………..Enclosed

End result……………………………………………………Result

Exactly the same………………………………………….The same

Final completion………………………………………… Completion

In spite of the fact that………………………………… Although

In the event that………………………………………….If

Particular interest………………………………………. Interest

A period of X days………………………………………. X days

Personal opinion………………………………………….Opinion

Return again……………………………………………….Return

Revert back………………………………………………..Revert

Small in size………………………………………………. Small

Surrounded on all sides………………………………..Surrounded

Take into consideration………………………………. Consider

There is no doubt that………………………………….No doubt

We are in receipt of……………………………………..We have received

INTENSIFIERS THAT DO NOT INTENSIFY

Really                                                      Extremely

Very                                                         Severely

Quite                                                        Truly

PHRASES YOU CAN JUST LEAVE OUT

All things considered

Have a tendency to

As a matter of fact

In a manner of speaking

As far as I’m concerned

In a very real sense

At the present time

In my opinion

Because of the fact that

In the case of

By means of

In the event that

By virtue of the fact that

It seems that

For all intents and purposes

The point I am trying to make is that

For the most part

What I mean to say is

For the purpose of

Note that any or all of these could be used in dialogue, as people use a lot more stock phrases and cliches when speaking than a writer should when writing!

Addendum – Another one to look out for is characters who ‘start to…’ or ‘begin to…’ perform actions (personal bugbear of mine). Sometimes a character will start an action and not finish it, or dialogue intervenes, but more often it’s just a long-winded, soft way of saying a character did something.

Bad=

Michael knelt down and began to pick up the pieces of the broken mirror. He carefully carried them to the bin.

Good =

Michael knelt down and picked up the pieces of the broken mirror, then carefully carried them to the bin.

‘Before’ is another I also accidentally slip in without cause.

Michael knelt down and picked up the pieces of the mirror before carefully carrying them to the bin.

Obviously he had to pick them up before he carried them… Usually ‘and’ is required instead.

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Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 11:00 am  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very helpful list that, thanks! Certainly inspires some thought into the ‘faffy’ words that worm their way into my writing on a regular basis.

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  2. That’s a very interesting list.

    And good point about them being valid in dialogue. I use many of these phrases in emails to clients as they give the ‘feel’ of talking to someone rather than making the message seem too clipped and short (succinct some might say but this can be perceived as dry and perhaps too cold when used in business relationship communications).

    Granted this is a different form of writing but I find that the feeling of the spoken word that they convey is appropriate when involved in relationship communications rather than ‘tight’ novel writing.

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    • It is a question of style – a more conversational tone is sometimes appropriate, as many of these words and phrases are ‘softening’ qualifiers that make your writing seem less dictatorial.

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  3. Yeah, this enters very definitely into the realm of style. People will need to be careful applying that list – some of the entries (like ‘cooperate together’) are simply grammatically wrong and should always be got rid of; others are definitely a question of style.

    A lot of faff is avoided simply by a better understanding of grammar – use of the wrong conjunction can add a lot of weasel words, because people often unwittingly correct it by adding a second clause or phrase which repeats the meaning of the first. A clear understanding of what adverbs actually do, and which particular words in the sentence they apply to when used in a given order, also helps. The same is true for any component of a sentence. It’s the kind of stuff that isn’t (or wasn’t, or hasn’t lately been) taught very well in schools, in the UK at least, and I often find myself having to look this kind of thing up. It’s worth doing.

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  4. Awesome, thanks Mr Thorpe 🙂

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  5. The pain of editing someones cover letter can be summed up in the above.

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  6. […] Purge Purple Prose – Although ‘purpleness’ is a bit of a subjective measurement, a good way to go about this is to examine every adjective and adverb and ask whether it really adds to the text. It’s also good to look for possible tautologies and similar repetition – “burning flame”, “bright sun” and so on. This also goes back to the ‘tight’ writing advice I passed on in a previous post. […]

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