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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Favorite Words

We all have words that we favor, that we rely on consciously or unconsciously or overuse. I notice myself using certain words too much sometimes. This gives me useful information about how I am thinking. Suppose it is nuance. In that case I am probably in a mode of thought where I am wanting to be especially attentive to nuance. Or the word attentive, or vicissitude or fraught. These words function as barometers of my attitude toward my subject matter.

Other words are merely stylistic tics. When I notice those overwhelming my prose, I do a word search in my document and change or eliminate them. I have have stylistic tics that are not words but constructions. "Not only... but also" is one example. You wouldn't want to write three paragraphs in a row with "not only... but also." Nothing wrong with the construction itself, but the reader doesn't want to think you are a one-trick pony.

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To many words in -tion, fy, or, -ize can also give your prose a heavy feeling. Problematize, realize, actualize, reify, deify. You don't want too much rhyme or jingle, as the composition teachers used to call it (maybe still do).

4 comments:

Clarissa said...

"At the same time" is an expression I love so much that I once started three sentences in a row with it. I also love "indissolubly linked," "revolves around," "mirrors," and "however."

Andrew Shields said...

"Not only X but also Y" is not only a tic but also can be so easy to spin out that one doesn't really examine the relationship between X and Y closely. When revising, I often find myself stopping and thinking about the X and the Y for a while to see if I can be more precise about their relationship.

My students want everything to be causal: because and therefore and as a result all the time. I've been working with them on seeing how to revise causal sentences so that they act out causality rather than assert it. This can be as simple as using a colon instead of "because."

matt said...

I most often find myself replacing my repetitious use of: "focus," "articulates," "not only...but also," "helps us see," and some common signposting moves like "I would argue/suggest/etc."

fjb said...

Mine is "X is not so much Y as it is Z" or some variant of that structure. It's useful for making some distinctions, but can be unclear, and I slip into using it too often.