Three Unnecessary Words

rogersgeorge on June 27th, 2016

Usually unnecessary, anyway. Not counting “please,” see a recent post. My term for unnecessary words is fluff. Don’t write fluff.

Successfully. If you did something successfully, you did it. No need to add “successfully.” Here’s a recent headline I saw in Inside Climate News:

Iceland Experiment Successfully Turns CO2 Emissions into Rock

Some might argue that the word implies that the success was a surprise, but face it—the headline works just fine without “successfully,” and turning a gas into rock would be surprising in any case.

I see a lot of pages on which a person applies for a job. They usually end with something like

Congratulations. You have successfully submitted your application for the position of whatchamacallit with our company.

Why not say something like “We got your application and we’ll take a look at it.”? (see an earlier post about using the future tense to be vague.)

Different. When you mention two (or more) things, you often don’t gain anything by saying they’re different, unless the difference is the point. Usually, if they’re different enough to enumerate, you have already made them enough different that you don’t need to say so.

The farm has two different bulls.
The farm has two bulls.

His wife has twenty-four different chickens.
His wife has twenty-four chickens.

There are two ways to hold a trombone.
There are two different ways to hold a trombone.

Conciseness is a virtue. (Technically it’s “concision,” but it’s also a virtue to be clear.)

Totally. I was talking with my daughter (not the one who wrote the guest post) about unnecessary words, and she suggested “totally.” If something is so, it’s totally so unless you say otherwise. Since a lot of things can be incompletely so, be sure to say so.

The poor creature was dead
The poor creature was totally dead.
The poor creature was half dead.

Unless you’re  Valley Girl, totally.

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Don’t Say “Please”

rogersgeorge on June 5th, 2016

Suppose you’re writing some instructions, or even a single instruction. One word you don’t want to use is “please”!

“Please” implies your reader has a choice. When you’re giving instructions you’re telling your reader to do something, you’re not making a request. It’s not a favor you’re asking, in effect, you’re giving a command. For example:

To operate a car,

  1. Turn on the ignition.
  2. Step on the gas.
  3. Aim the car down the road.
  4. Please don’t hit anybody.

Simplistic, yes, but only that last one is a request. When you should leave out a word, the word is fluff if you leave it in, so get rid of it.

For practice, look at these. Which ones are correct, and which aren’t?

In case of fire, please break glass.
Click “Submit” to be removed from our mailing list.
Stick ’em up!
Move aside!
Please move aside!
Measure the length to the nearest half inch.
To join the list, type your email address and press Enter.

Let’s look at that last one. Yes, it’s a request, but is there any other way to get on the list? No. So the “please” is inappropriate. Rule of thumb: if you can leave off the “Please,” do so.

More fluff, sort of

rogersgeorge on February 6th, 2014

Eliminating unnecessary words is part of good writing. If you search this blog for “fluff” you should run into most of my rants on the subject. Here’s an item I ran into that’s in line with my philosophy on the subject. He could have included the swear word in his list of unnecessary words.

Go here:

In which I pick on a paragraph

rogersgeorge on January 22nd, 2014

Scientific American has pretty high editorial standards, but the blogs must use a different editor. This isn’t entirely bad–the goofs provide grist for my mill. I recently ran into a thought-provoking article in the Information Culture blog about removing books from a library’s collection. Thoughtful content notwithstanding, I found a couple things to edit. Here’s the guilty paragraph:

Scientists learn new things everyday that render previous books and articles on a topic out-of-date or simply incorrect.  Yesterday I pulled a book off the shelf about how to conduct radiometric dating published in 1954. There have been major advances in the topic in the past 60 years and we have more up to date information available on the shelves.

I found three solecisms. See if you can spot them before you continue. Here they are, with some additional remarks.

  1. First one: “everyday” is an adjective. In this sentence we want an adverb (tells when), which in this case should be “every day.”
  2. “previous” is correct. A lot of people would have written “prior,” which is wrong. I mentioned that in at least one past post.
  3. “simply incorrect” gets along fine without the “simply.” I wrote several times about fluff—unnecessary words—two of them are “just” and “simply.” However the writer here is being conversational, not giving instructions, and the word is not ungrammatical, so we can call it a stylistic choice. But it’s tighter without the extra word.
  4. Second one: The hyphenation in “out-of-date” shouldn’t be there. It’s a plain old adverb phrase that goes with “render.” No need for hyphens.
  5. This remark is rather picky. I would have put a comma after “radiometric dating” because “published in 1954” goes with “book.” The comma separates dating from published, making you look elsewhere. Books and publishing go together so commonly that you’re not likely to be confused, but the rule is that a modifier belongs as close as possible to what it modifies. The comma makes sure you don’t suppose that the dating itself was published in 1954.
  6. Third one: “up to date” should be hyphenated. It’s a compound adjective, which we hyphenate.

That’s a lot of chopping on one poor paragraph in an interesting article. I should add that nothing else jumped out at me in the whole rest of the article, and I shall give credit where it is due: the last sentence in the article is nice:

Weeding no-longer-useful books is just as important to collection building as acquiring new books.