Shut the Hell Up: An English Teacher’s Guide to Overused Words
This confession should come as no surprise to anyone: I have a tendency to use too many words. When I was in graduate school earning my M.A. in English, my Swiss-born professor of literary theory remarked on one of my papers that I was “overly verbose”. I’ll repeat: I was in a graduate level course on literary theory. My girlfriend humorously (I think it’s humorously) refers to me as Steven “Man of Many Words” Craig. I write a blog entitled “TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less”, and I’m at 100 words already. So either I have a heck of a lot of nerve to be writing a column on overused words or I am one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject. I am going to go with the latter.
The point here is that words have the potential to be powerful things so don’t go blowing your wad on overblown verbiage only to show up disappointingly impotent by using these words in crucial moments (hope you appreciate the subtlety of the sexual double entendre there). Choose your words wisely. And mean what you fucking say. And so, in no particular order….
Very: Seriously, you can’t think of a better word to use than this?
“I love you.”
“How much so, my darling?”
“Very much?” Weak sauce indeed. Good luck winning the young lass’s heart with that bit of poetry, fair Romeo.
Now I’m just fine with the use of “very” as an adjective (as in, “That is the very tool I need”, and yes, I may just have heard that sentence recently). But its more common use an amplifying adverb is simply a meaningless waste of a word. It adds absolutely nothing, so cut that crap out.
But: Now the issue with “but” is that folks often underestimate its impact. It’s such a tiny word, just three wee letters, but holy shitballs does it pack a wallop. Doubt me? Check out this little imaginary interaction:
“Hey, Donna. I have two tickets for Motley Crue. Not sure why, but I do. In any case, would you like to go with me this Friday night?”
“I’d love to Jack, but….”
Now I don’t give a damn what comes after that “but” because whatever Donna comes back with is going to be delivered with a firm gut punch to Jack’s flailing ego. Hit too close to home with that one, did I? Sorry…
Fact is that “but” negates everything that comes before it, and I do mean everything. Which brings me to the next word on my list…
Sorry: Don’t say it unless you mean it. You ever see that poor kid who is dragged by his parent over to someone else’s kid only to deliver the most begrudging apology in the long annals of begrudging apologies? Yeah, me too. Just don’t. To be sorry means you will honestly make every effort (because sometimes we all fail even with the best intentions) to not repeat the behavior. If you can’t live up to that standard, just don’t say it. And if you have to add a “but” to your “sorry”, as in, “I’m really sorry I just pissed on your living room sofa, but….”, just forget it. You don’t really mean it. Everything that comes after that “but” is just your bullshit rationalization as you ironically deflect genuine accountability onto the victim with the falsely constructed pretense of being the better person by apologizing. Yeah, go screw yourself. Either own it and apologize or fuck off. Which also brings me to my next word….
Fuck: Needless to say I love this word, especially when used as an action verb, but when you use it too much, especially as an interjection, it eventually loses its impact. Former students will you tell that one of their highlights of the Craigers experience was to have me demonstrate Craig’s first rule of grammar (“It is not the word itself but its syntactic use in the sentence that determines a word’s part of speech”) by using the “f word” as every part of speech except a conjunction or a preposition (that would be plain ass funky!) Truth be told, “fuck” is a much better as an amplifier than “very” is, but don’t overdo it:
“I love you.”
“How much so, my darling?”
“So fucking much!”
Which brings me to my last word….
Love: Like “fuck”, “love” is beautiful and saucy, but it loses its luster when overused. It’s emotional impact is best served by being reserved for a precious few. Let me give you an example. Years ago, an ex of mine was decorating our house for Christmas. As she pulled out her treasured assortment of family heirlooms and long-standing traditions, she held up a pure white Santa Claus that looked like a 1970’s albino pimp. “I just love this Santa Claus,” she said.
“Wait, you haven’t even told me you love me yet,” I protested.
She moved out a week later, taking the Santa but leaving my broken heart behind.
Love is a precious, momentous emotion that we are fortunate to experience in bursts of joy throughout our lifetime. Don’t go sprinkling that word around, spreading your seed over a vast field of undeserving recipients.
In other words, don’t be a love slut.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 words or less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com