I’m not the only person who gets stuck in a language rut. I know, because I hear it in other’s speech all the time. You know, those annoying words and phrases we insert into our speech because our brains and mouths aren’t working at the same speed?
Um, uh, and ah are just the tip of the iceberg.
How many people do you know who use actually, literally, honestly, and definitely ad nauseam? What about the unnecessary use of anyway, well, truly, very, and so?
And what about whole phrases? Know anyone stuck on “at the end of the day,” “mark my words,” or “you know what I mean?” I had a great aunt who muttered “everything and all don’t you know” between every sentence she spoke. What does that even mean?
While most of these words and phrases won’t kill you to listen to (they won’t, I promise), they can become bad habits and say a lot about the person using them. In the writing world, nothing says “amateur” quicker than these language ruts, or crutch phrases.
When I began writing I knew I needed to ferret out and banish these words from my writing. I’ll admit to using “that” and “definitely” too often, and, on occasion, “basically” seeps in. Ugly business, eliminating these crutch words.
Luckily, we writers have some tools available to us to help bring our bad habits to light. Online editing programs, like Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor app, can alert us to where our weaknesses are, and even suggest how we can fix them. (The Hemingway Editor app flagged almost everything in this post, by the way 🤣)
I am thankful for these programs and they have gotten me out of grammar jail many times. But nothing can replace a human when it comes to editing. I was reminded of this after getting feedback from an advance reader for my new nonfiction book, After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini.
Come to find out, I had used the phrase “come to find out” four times in the manuscript. FOUR times! That’s three times too many. Four times too many for my advance reader because he’s a Brit and doesn’t get the phrase. I’m OK with using it once, though, because, well, I’m the writer and it suits my conversational nonfiction writing style.
Thank you, David, for alerting me to one of my previously undetected crutch phrases!
What about you? What language ruts do you find yourself in? What crutch words and phrases drive you crazy when you hear other people use them? Leave your cringe-worthy crutch words in the comments below!
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travelogue, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes about yoga and meditation and has published a collection of short stories, The Monster In the Closet and Other Stories. Her newest nonfiction book, After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini was released in 2017.
When Kris is not at her standing desk writing, you can find her playing chess, folding an origami crane, or practicing a Beethoven sonata on the piano. She lives in Rock Hill, SC, with her husband and two cats.