1. MrReliable3599
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    MrReliable3599 Member

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    Adjectives, Adverbs, and Other Expressions Non Gratis

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MrReliable3599, Feb 19, 2014.

    A while back I was a member of a writers group and one piece of advice stuck with me. One of the older members told me, "Adjectives will wreck your writing."

    I work with a writing staff that produces technical research publications. Among other words and phrases frowned upon, we completely banned the word "Important." First of all, the writer has passed up the opportunity to explain why it's important. Also, using the word "important" with regard to a particular subject suggests all the other subjects in the publication are less so.

    I love the quote attributed to Mark Twain. "Every time you are tempted to include the word 'very' in your manuscript, write instead the word 'damn'. Your editor will delete the word and your writing will be as it should."

    Another word I try to avoid when possible is "That." When it shows up, if you can take it out and not kill the writing, it always makes it stronger.

    Oh, and semicolons. Don't get me started on semicolons. I'll admit it's irrational to have a phsychological aversion to a punctuation mark. Folks here at the shop will add one on occasion just to hear me make funny noises. I said don't get me started.

    Does anyone else have words, phrases, or other they try to avoid?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    None that I avoid; many with which I am judicious and miserly. ;)
     
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  3. MrReliable3599
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    MrReliable3599 Member

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    "Ref! REF! Taunting foul. TAUNTING!!!"
     
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  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not taunting, just that I try to avoid absolutes. ;) If I had to pick a word that makes me reach for the delete key in my work or the work of anyone else, it's seems/seemed/seemingly. They have a purpose, don't get me wrong, but toooooo often they are used by the writer in a fashion that speaks of an unwillingness to commit to the image or the feeling or whatever it is that the writer is portraying. Like the writer is cringing just a bit in case you think the image or the comparison or simile or metaphor is stupid. It's an eminently wembly word.
     
  5. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Sometimes the mannerisms are similar for different reasons. For example, if someone fidgets and looks to the ground, are the nervous, feeling guilty, or physically sick? If that character isn't the POV, the POV character has to guess what the other character is feeling. And this can look like telling.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That I consciously try to avoid? No. Every word has its purpose. Even words like "very" or "suddenly" (or whatever else other people seem to dislike) can be used effectively.

    Also, I love semicolons. :)
     
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  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Whoever said "adjectives will wreck your writing" is generalising FAR too much. Next time read a novel you love and omit each and every piece of description you find, see what that gets you.

    It's the OVERUSE of adjectives that will wreck your writing. It's a small difference, but an - here's that hated adjective - important one! :D
     
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  8. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I use the word "very" in dialogue. People use that word in real life.
     
  9. MrReliable3599
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    MrReliable3599 Member

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    I suffered trauma in an abusive relationship with a semicolon addict. She performed proofing functions at our company. There was no sentence so far broken that it could not be fixed by adding semicolons. Even if a sentence was not broken, it could always be vastly improved by restructuring to make room for semicolons. The finished product had all the charm of listening to one of those types who makes quotation marks with their fingers every time they utter a sentence.

    Of course; the abusive semicolon usage was a a statement of self-perceived intellectual superiority.

    I would question why a perfectly fine sentence would be hacked up by adding three semicolons, and perhaps make a reference to the difference between "proofing" and "editing." The perpetrator's nose would rise in the air, and I would be lectured that, "Semicolons are a perfectly legitimate form of punctuation, if you understand how to use them." Periodically she would leave copies of writings on my desk about punctuation with the word "semicolon" in yellow highlighter.

    We produced technical reference materials. I had referred to a government form and had reproduced the title exactly. It was not my fault the title of the government form included a long series of items separated by commas. The semicolon addict was like a kid in a candy store on that one. The manuscript came back to me with 11 commas replaced with 11 semicolons, the most semicolons I had ever seen in one sentence, obviously a magnificent accomplishment. The fact it no longer accurately represented the title of the form was irrelevant.

    This is why I have an irrational aversion to a punctuation mark, and why the writers at the shop are allowed only two unapproved semicolons per year, with any additional semicolons required to go through an approval process.
     
  10. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Adjectives are fine in moderation. Anything is. Adverbs should be banned more than adjectives, but even adverbs are your friends when they serve a purpose. But without adjectives, you could never explain something is blue, quick, or large quite so economically. Ban them when you have to. When do you have to? It's a case-by-case basis. You don't need to tell us someone is large when you describe them as a bodybuilder. Likewise, saying the sky is blue is unecessary, but you don't have to go paragraph over paragraph to describe a car as blue when you can just say "blue."

    Semicolons? Heh. We have a divided group on this forum in terms of those. I don't mind them, but I've learned to do without them.

    And "that." Like everything, use when necessary.

    Just remember that technical writing and fiction writing are two different sports.
     
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  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I love adjectives but usually when they're lousy is when the adjective is timid and the noun is boring - you get a double dose of blah. Big car, short skirt, long hair - not saying you can't use any of these or use them well. But if your thinking automatically creates boring pair ups that's the problem. Why not limo, tight mini, or even the purply - breast covering, waist length, mermaid hair.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are no words or punctuation marks that should be banned. Any "rule" that claims you shouldn't use adverbs, adjectives, thats, semicolons, verys, or anything else is putting shackles and chains on you as a writer. It limits your toolbox and you can't do that. As @JayG likes to say, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The idea is to always have the right tool for the job available. Maybe you won't need to use it often, but if you don't have it, you wind up bringing out the hammer and bashing your prose into worthlessness.

    Every experienced writer knows this. The problem happens when novice writers and editors read rules like these and think they're absolutes, and start judging prose by unreasonable (read: twisted) standards. They could read a gorgeous page, one that's stunningly effective, but if they see an adverb, they laugh and say, "What a piece of crap!" If they see a semicolon, they suffer severe brain damage and have to be hospitalized. Conversely, if they read a terrible page that has no adverbs or semicolons, they'll say, "This is wonderful prose! One hundred percent perfect!" I'd ask how they came to that conclusion, and they'd say, "It has no adverbs or semicolons, dude. That makes it great."

    Rules like these are crippling to writers and are corrosive to literature.

    That's my story and I'm stickin' to it! :)
     
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  13. MrReliable3599
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    MrReliable3599 Member

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    I appreciate your willingness to engage. I agree with you on some points, but respectfully disagree on others.

    I agree that if you're narrowly defining "writing" to refer only to poetry, dialogue, fiction, etc., following rules can be restrictive. However, one needs to look no further than any industry manual of style to find rules governing proper use, or "banning" if you will, certain words and phrases. Quite frankly, I know writers who carry turds in their toolboxes, and find uses for them. I don't agree that being selective about the tools you carry will automatically relegate your writing to "worthlessness."

    It depends on what you're writing.

    Although our style book does not refer to this exact phrase, we do ban its first cousin, "Experts say..." Being an irreverent person myself, saying "everybody thinks" is a good way to get me to take the opposite view, which I suppose is a way of opening myself up for control.

    I appreciate your concern for novice writers and editors, and I agree that throwing a bunch of rules at them can be counter productive. I offer the same advice I offer to young athletes who are trying to develop a skill or advance at a position. "Over time you're going to be exposed to many different coaches, and they'll tell you many different things. It's your job to listen to each, and determine what best works for you."

    I fully agree that hard and fast rules engraved in stone and set in concrete applied to all situations can be confusing. I would simply assert that sometimes, depending on the circumstances, there are definite rules that should be followed;
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree that in some cases, like when you're writing technical manuals, it's better to stick to convention. But when it comes to creative writing, pretty much anything goes. That's why a lot of members on this forum tend not to use absolute rules. For every example, there's always a counterexample.

    By the way, if that semicolon at the end wasn't a typo, then you're using it incorrectly.
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm an engineer, and in my career I've done a heck of a lot of technical writing. I've read industry manuals of style. Fortunately for me, I was working for small companies and I got to define my own standards. :)

    That said, I agree with you. I would only differ in saying that poetry, dialogue, fiction, etc. do not count as a "narrow" definition of writing. Technical writing is really the narrow definition. In technical writing, clarity is paramount and ambiguity is a no-no. You also have to be aware that your audience may not be comprised of skilled readers – readers who enjoy reading and are well practiced at it. Your readers might be people with little schooling, so you have to ensure that you keep your language level pretty low.

    I disagree with your statement about “turds in their toolboxes.” There are no turds in toolboxes. There are only tools – things that have purposes, even if they’re only needed rarely. Some of those tools will not come out of the toolbox when doing technical writing. Likewise, a paragraph from Saul Bellow isn’t likely to find itself in a book written for the Dr. Seuss set.

    Writers have to learn when to use certain tools and when not to. If a writer misuses a tool, it’s not the tool’s fault; it’s the writer’s. The tool is not the turd. The writer is, at least at that moment.

    I suppose I should have stated that I was speaking of fiction writing, since that’s what almost everyone here on these forums is involved in. I just made that assumption. It’s rare for us to discuss technical writing.

    Duck! Weave! Parry! Thrust! Have at thee! :)
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not clear on whether you're saying that this ambiguity is a bad thing. I consider it a good thing.
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Non-grata' not 'non-gratis' (non gratis means 'not for free' and non grata means 'not welcome').

    I can only echo the sentiments of other forum members. Personally, I see no sense in such restrictions, because if I actually work really hard and practice, I'll learn some self-control and improve my ability to express myself and be able to write with all the grammar and style at my disposal. Besides, blaming the adjectives and not the writer is misplaced blame.

    As far as traumas with semicolons, I had some bad experiences with guys called Peter, but I haven't wowed to never speak to a Peter again. I might be a bit cautious when I meet them, but that's where the paranoia ends ;)
     
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  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Very well said! Score one for @jazzabel!

    It's like saying, "I hate peanut butter!" Do you really hate peanut butter, or do you just hate the chef who put it in your spaghetti carbonara, or the bartender who put it in your mint julep? Do you want it spread on your sushi? Probably not. But that's not the peanut butter's fault. It's the fault of the chef. ;)
     
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  19. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I don't think ambiguity is a bad thing. But, if you want to be clear about something, you may have to take a more direct approach.
     

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