24 Jun

words that don’t belong in the 21st century

Ok, so I need to fess up that this post is actually a re-hash of one I made a few years back on my now archived blog Virtually a Librarian. (You can find the original plus interesting comments in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive.) I’m pulling it out for another go round today for two reasons:

  1. I just used the word ‘moreover’ in my thesis and cringed.
  2. I just saw a tweet that reminded me of how much I hate some of these words.

Now before I start, let me just say that I am not suggesting I’m a perfect writer. I once used the word ‘generalisability’ in a conference paper so I really shouldn’t be casting any stones. I’m a fan of using words and punctuation creatively. I am incapable of using tense consistently. I’m an editor’s nightmare. (Just ask the editor currently working on my thesis.) But you will never, ever catch me using the word ‘whilst’.

I initially wrote this post in response to seeing the word ‘whilst’ in one too many assignments, but it turns up everywhere. And I really dislike it.

Fifty shades of grey is a really good example of formal language gone wrong. The dialogue is stilted because it’s unnecessarily and unrealistically formal.

Just as the dialogue in Fifty shades clunks because of its formality, some words commonly used in academic and business writing are archaic, wanky and off-putting. For me, these words fall into two categories: unnecessarily formal, and clunky joiners.

Here are some of my (least) favourites.

Unnecessarily formal

These are a bunch of words that people tend to use instead of simple language when they’re writing something formal or academic. There’s a common misconception that ‘academic’ means ‘verbose’, ‘complex’ or ‘not everyday’. Stick a couple of extra letters at the end of a common word and you’ve elevated your writing to a different level of quality, right? Uh, wrong.

There is never, ever any need to use these words. Unless you’re the Queen.

  • Whilst: while we *always* do. I hate this word more than any other in the English language.
  • Utilise (even worse if it uses a ‘z’): what’s wrong with ‘use’?
  • Thus: often used in really complex sentence structures and it just doesn’t work for me at all.
  • Therefore: I can deal with this one sometimes, but very often ‘so’ will do the trick.

Clunky joiners

These are words people use to link sentences together and they are most annoying when they are used in a completely arbitrary way. An old friend of mine uses these words at random, without any recognition of the fact they actually have a meaning and need to be carefully selected. A few that really frustrate me:

  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Heretofore

Used correctly and very sparingly, these words are okay. But there are much more elegant ways to craft separate sentences into paragraphs that flow. It’s just a little more work to pull them off.

Simple is beautiful

Writing economically is a bit of an art and it’s also a bit risky, I guess. If your language is simple, your content is on display. IMO, sometimes people attempt to hide less-than-perfect content with verbose sentence structures (I’m sure this is why some of the assignments I mark are laden with these words). For other people it’s less deliberate. They just think they have to use formal words in certain types of writing. But if you use these ugly, unnecessary words, you’re causing extra work for the reader. They have to dig through your language to access the content. This means you’re stopping your readers from understanding what you’re saying. And that’s never a good thing.

Does anyone else have a problem with these words? Or others? Please share yours in the comments!

#blogjune 23/30