Today’s post was inspired by the following passage from a book I love — On Writing Well by William Zinsser:
“Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: ‘a bit,’ ‘a little, ‘sort of,’ kind of,’ ‘rather,’ ‘quite,’ ‘very,’ ‘too,’ ‘pretty much,’ in a sense’ and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness.
“Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.
“Don’t say you weren’t too happy because the hotel was pretty expensive. Say you weren’t happy because the hotel was expensive. Don’t tell us you were quite fortunate. How fortunate is that? Don’t describe an even as rather spectacular or very awesome. Words like ‘spectacular’ and ‘awesome’ don’t submit to measurement. ‘Very’ is a useful word to achieve emphasis, but far more often it’s clutter. There’s no need to call someone very methodical. Either he is methodical or he isn’t.
“The large point is one of authority. Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader’s trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don’t diminish that belief. Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.” (pg. 70)
When it comes to writing, I agree thoroughly with Zinsser. Yet in everyday conversation, I also enjoy mixing adjectives. When something surprises me, I like to tell people that I am “mildly terrified.” In fact, if you were to meet me in the grocery store, my occupation may not be readily apparent. I don’t like to correct the grammar of people I meet casually. Though I wince inwardly when someone says “weary” even though they mean “leery” or “wary,” I usual only mention such pet peeves to close friends.
My husband knows that I edit life in my head, but I strive to be sensitive to the fact that not many people care about grammar as much as I do. For that matter, in day-to-day life I don’t even care about grammar as much as I do when I am editing. I’ll admit it . . . I tell people daily that I am “doing good,” even if I am not working for Habitat for Humanity or serving in a soup kitchen at just that moment!
When we speak, our words do matter, but so does our ability to connect with those around us. I’d rather speak colloquially and be relatable than concern myself so much with the finer points of grammar that I can no longer carry on a normal conversation. Choose your words carefully, but give yourself (and others!) the freedom to make a mistake or to intentionally play with the beauty and fluidity of language.
What about you? What language rules do you knowingly break in casual conversation?