So sings julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, complaining about too many words said to her that have no meaning.
Any writer who pays attention during revising will have noted there are unnecessary words that crop up in our manuscripts. Most are repeat offenders, too. We tend to cling to words that have no place in our prose but are products of how we pound out first drafts.
In full disclosure, I’ve learned that “just” is one of mine that creeps into those drafts. So is “that.” I (just) let them flow as I write, and then a round of edits will find me sitting at my desk using the “Find” option to capture and delete as many of these as I can. I end up deleting almost all of them, too, what I call “carving out” the offenders.
Words that creep into drafts that need to be expunged are what Benjamin Dreyer, Random House Copy Chief, calls “Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers” in a chapter of his witty and wise book, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. This has become one of several handbooks I keep on my desk and refer to frequently, and heartily recommend to all writers at any stage of their careers.
Dreyer lists words all tries should be on the lookout for with an eye to removal. He includes: “very.” “rather,” “really,” and my own “just.” “Of course,” makes the list, as does “pretty” as a modifier, and “in fact.” There’s “quite,” too, which I get away with in dialogue from a British character but not elsewhere.
And then there is the dreaded “actually.” He almost shudders at that one.
Of course, there are actually times when in fact you’d rather ignore his advice and just keep those very favorite words in because you are really quite fond of them.
In most cases, DON’T.
Your prose will be crispier and clearer if you can delete as many as possible. As George Orwell said, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”
Writers, have you noticed words you use and cut out repeatedly?