Word Crutches and Other “Various” Words

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Reading through the first draft of my work in progress, a very kind friend noticed a few words that were a bit overused. One of them was the word “various”. I had “various” birds, “various” foods, “various” colors, “various” fish, and even “various” mothers. She even suggested (gently) that this word might be a crutch for me.

That kind of hurt, but in rereading another chapter, I found another overused word–“curious”. Curiously, I seemed to have had a hard time spelling that word, so, really, you would think I would have been looking for synonyms even before I realized I had used that same word four times in a single page.

Doing another read through some more chapters, I decided every time I saw the word “various” that I would circle it with a blue colored pencil. What was it about that word? It’s not even a great word. It’s actually kind of lame. Boring. “Various.” Really? What about diverse? Manifold? Miscellaneous? Sundry?(Now, there’s a good word). However, it’s become a bit of a game to me to see how many times and in how many various places I have been able to work that same word into a phrase. I mean, you would think I had entered a contest where the prize went to the writer who could find the most ways to use a certain word in many different (and various) ways.

On the other hand, there are other words I’m reluctant to use because it might seem like showing off. For example, this morning I used the word “quirk” twice in my current writing. You know, “he quirked a smile” or perhaps an eyebrow. Great word–quirk. Much more interesting than “various”. But, I don’t know. Does that fall under the rule of not using a “fancy” word when a more familiar one will do? Of course, if I use it enough times, won’t that make it more familiar? Or maybe it’s not really fancy at all. Just because I don’t use it in everyday conversation doesn’t mean it’s not commonplace in another place and time.

Another interesting fact about words is that they can run in cycles. Remember when everything was “awesome”? I like that word, but hesitate to use it after hearing that so many people had “awesome days”, own “awesome dogs”, make an “awesome grilled cheese”, or saw an “awesome sunset.” Still, I don’t want to throw it out the window just because of its overuse because it is, after all, an awesome word. But, I will proceed with some caution when I want to describe anything as “awesome”. For now, when I want to describe a new book, a new song, or anything else that touches my soul, I will probably call it “impressive”, “astonishing”, “breathtaking”, or downright “splendid”.  Any of those various words should do.

How about you? Any words you tend to use as crutches? Or are there some words that you would like to use but feel they have overplayed their hand?

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