Avoid These Words. Seriously.
I groaned when I saw the headline a few days ago in the National Post section of the Edmonton Journal. It read "Flooded-out rivers continue to threaten New Brunswick".
Unnecessary words are now making their way into newspaper headlines, even though they're supposed to be written by professionals. Wouldn't the headline have been better and said the same thing if the word "out" was eliminated? I shouldn't have been surprised. As the years go by, people use more needless words in their conversations and don't realize it.
I'm not perfect, but I learned a long time ago to try to eliminate useless and redundant words and phrases and I wish more media people would do the same.
A Life Lesson
It was 40 years ago and I had just started working in the newsroom at CHQT radio in downtown Edmonton. Newspeople had regular air check sessions with News Director Ed Mason, allowing the boss to critique our on-air work. None of us enjoyed doing them, but we all knew we would come away being better at our craft.
At one of those sessions, Ed stopped the cassette recorder in the middle of one of my newscasts and told me that I was being redundant. He said “You just said an autopsy was done on the body. Autopsies can only be done on bodies, so from now on just say an autopsy was done. It’s the same thing.”
I felt a little silly, but didn’t do it again. To this day, I shake my head when I hear a media person report “An autopsy was done on the body.” Obviously, they didn’t have a mentor like I had four decades ago.
The newspaper headline I spotted is just one of a steady stream of redundant words and phrases I hear and see on the news these days.
Some of the Biggest Offenders
It’s amazing how many on-air people don’t take the time to think about the extra words and redundancies they use.
I recently heard a golf commentator talking about a young golfer and his chances of playing in the Ryder Cup. He said “He has a chance of making the team if he continues to play well from here on in.” He could have scrapped those last four words and made the same statement.
Far too often, redundancies that start in the media work their way into everyday discussions by the public. A few years ago, I started hearing the term “oftentimes” by sports announcers. Just the other day I heard a friend use that term. Doesn’t “often” say the same thing?
For years, sports announcers have used terms like “all game long’ and “all season long.” The word "long" is redundant, but
I think gets used by those who want to make their statement sound bigger. Perhaps “all game long” is longer than “all game?”
During the winter Olympics curling announcers talked about the need for a rock to “curl up.” I’m pretty sure saying the rock needed to curl is the same thing.
I heard a traffic reporter recently tell his audience that a vehicle had stalled in the “right hand lane, and traffic was blocked off.” That’s the Daily Double of extra words. Saying the right lane and traffic was blocked is the same thing.
I constantly hear "every single time" and the "exact same thing", two phrases that both could lose a word in the middle and not have their meaning changed.
Words Have Meaning
It’s amazing how often people add little words like “off”, “up”, “in”, “long” and others for no apparent reason.
I know there are far bigger issues in the world today and extra words and redundant phrases don’t hurt anyone, but words have meaning.
The reason is simple. The more you can eliminate words that do nothing for your conversation, the words you do use stand out. On some occasions, important phrases and sentences can get lost because of all the needless words around them.
I’m willing to bet people use fewer redundant words and phrases when they type, compared to when they speak. When we type we generally self-edit, resulting in tighter copy than when we speak because it’s so easy to say needless words.
Here’s my suggestion. Spend a day reviewing what you have just said. Think about the extra words you use that don’t help. You may be surprised how long your list is at the end of the day.
I could go on, but I hope I’ve made my point, so I’ll stop now because less is more.
This a wonderful piece, Grant. Coming from the media (some time ago) I found your book refreshing and very useful for almost anytime I'm speaking with someone, especially potential investors and business partners. You think reporters ask tough questions? Keep up the good work! I'll be in touch when I launch my new company. One of the divisions is Publishing.