Sunday, 13 February 2011

Lazy Words. Er, um, like, do you use them too?

Well, I was sorta like reading the weekend papers when I came across this article by a regular contributor who makes me roll around the floor clutching her witticisms, but she really made me think today...and cringe...

She points out that there is a trend to use words as punctuation marks as we speak to each other, and ummm, aaah, I've found that these words are like creeping into my writing too! Just like my over-use of exclamation marks!!! So I think I need to take a nice, deep, uh, breath and think about this.

Guilty! I use lazy words, do you?

The writer calls them verbal crutches, words that prop up a sentence that is limping along, a resting word to lean on when your brain is blown or feeling a tad, like, sluggish. Sometimes in Queensland it's just too darned like hot to finish a sentence before it gets eaten by humidity.

Well, along with the writer, I've noticed that this trend is rife in youngsters, well, like, those younger than some of us, like, we can actually read and er, write as well as speak. A teen made me laugh out loud when she said 'I really like like Thai food.' My befuddled brain was left to, er, wondering if she meant like 'I like the food, but in a kinda-like way.' Sort of like, a double eardrum assault.

Then there's the 'you know,' or 'y'no', like a quick tongue-trip. Some say 'Do you know what I mean?' or 'd'yanowotimin?' which actually like means 'Are you listening to me??' (Well, why would you?) 

Ever heard someone use 'sort of' or 'sort of like'. Like 'I'm feeling sort of like um depressed?' No wonder.

The word 'necessarily' is a good lean-on word which has no influence on the words preceding or following it, nicely bastardising a sentence, allowing the brain-damaged a rest. 'I don't n.e.c.e.s.s.a.r.i.l.y feel that it would be a good idea...' 'I suppose' is also a good meaningless flourish to add to the beginning or end of any sentence...I suppose.

What about 'in reality? 'In reality I just don't care about going shopping today.' The lazier version: 'I suppose, in reality, I don't kinda-like necessarily want to buy that ummm dress d'yanowotimin?'

Another old favourite with oldies: 'and so forth.' 'I went and visited the doctor and so forth and what have you.' Well, what have you? I ask you?

The worst thing about lazy words is that they're contagious. You catch them like a yawn. When I find myself spouting forth with the lazy words I'm like hearing all around me I immediately head to the bathroom to clean my mouth out with er, soap. I kinda think you all know what I mean, like?


Thanks to Ruth Ostrow who must have, like, been eavesdropping...


The Words Crafter said...

Oh my gosh, this is funny! And true! And I use exclamation marks way too often; I just want to convey my enthusiasm for what I read/heard/watched, etc. If I really enjoy something, or it makes me excited for them, I want people to know. But, it probably just looks like SHOUTING ON A PAGE, lol. Dang, I did it again, didn't I? I suppose I need to, you know, rethink how I, like write. And talk.

I didn't want any homework!

(This is really a fun post to play with.)

Kittie Howard said...

Gosh, I thought we only had this stuff in the States. Maybe that 24/7 cable obsession is spreading the disease. Oy!

Having said that, I went to bed last night thinking that it was really incredible that the English-speaking countries around the globe communicated so easily. I mean, we have our individualized slang and linguistic quirks, but what I really thought about is that the verbs remained true to meaning. We can filter out the extraneous and zero in on the meaning. I'm totally awed by this.

Len Lambert said...

LOL! This is a very funny post, Denise! So love it! When I write, I use a lot of exclamation marks!!!! (Too obvious, innit?LOL!) When talking I try not to say a lot of erm, ahh, ohhh, emm...hehehe. It's just so funny when we look at ourselves or listen to ourselves when we talk and we sound like this with lots of aspirated pauses. :) So true! Thanks Denise for a great post! :)

Margo Benson said...

Very funny and so true! (See how that exclamation mark just slipped in there?) I love this from a teen:
"Basically, absolutely I was like, Hello?"
I felt 100.

Anonymous said...

I use exclamations in blogging!! See... But I don't worry about it on my blog. However, they should be used sparingly in a story. And the lazy words--I have had a few friends in the past who have used them excessively (and I've heard them sometimes used by speakers in my church) and it drives me crazy.

Your post is incredibly clever. I smiled all the way through it. So true.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm guilty of padding my manuscripts. "That" "So" and others. Thanks for making me think of ones I'm sure I've padded but haven't noticed.

Dawn Embers said...


Very interesting. Somehow I managed to come out of this post squeaky clean. I don't use any of those. But personally I will say, Oh My Gosh! I hate when I have to listen to teens who use "like" at least one time every second. It is painful.

My terrible words are ones like "such as", "just" "then" "because" umm, "umm"... ;-)

Michael Di Gesu said...

We must be on the same wavelength. I am reading your blog as you commented on mine.... How COOL!

Luckily I'm not around lazy speaking people, so I don't fall into the lazy word category. As a matter of fact a good friend of mine is a scholar and she constantly corrects me when I us the wrong word for something.

Annoying... YOU BET! But I do learn that way and it keeps my writing clean.

The crusaders are awesome this year. I told Rach she better ask us for help is she needs it. It's too much work for one person, especially the magnitude of this one.

You also have a great weekend, Denise.

Let me know how the editing is going....


Nas said...

Hi Denise,

Recently I took a Self Editing course with Angela James(Carina Press Executive Editor)and she said if we overuse exclamation marks, its like we born with certain amount allocated to us and overusing will empty that allocation!

Denise Covey said...

The Words crafter: A true word is often spoken in jest as they say.:)

KIttie: The great American culture has spread like all over the world.

Len: It's meant to be funny and true. lol.

Margo: I'm truly addicted to ! marks as i'm an enthusiastic person, lol.

Ann: Glad I gave you your laugh of the day!

Theresa: I'm addicted to 'so' too.

Dawn: Go you! And you're so young too! How come you're so squeaky clean!

gideon 86: Ha ha. We are cool! I don't have any word police around me, actually, I am the word police, English teacher that I am. I love playing with words and I never use anyone's real name. I always make a nickname, lol. Yep, Rach's asking for a bit of help here and there. You'd be a good judge of writing comps.

Nas: Oh I used up my allocation ages ago!!!!!!!!!

Sylvia Ney said...

I'm not too bad about exclamation marks or the "sound" words like "ahh" and "umm", but I have caught myself repeatedly using elsipses and having my characters trail off. Something that happens in life, but not as often as I've caught myself "over using" them. Great post!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Crap, I'm guilty! Too many exclamation marks is my current bane, and look, I just added one. Damn.

Ashley Ashbee said...

This is so true! I know someone who uses "not necessarily" to minimize the ramifications of what he has done. I think it's a nervous thing, a way to try to deflect attention, not necessarily (do I get dibs for using this right?) just laziness.

Elissa Graham said...

I love listening to people who, when they talk, never say "um" or "ah" or "er". It's auditory heaven. Unless they're french and then they can say whatever they like ;)

A few other habits I have noticed some people have picked up is to start a sentence with "Actually". The other is to end a sentence with "you know?" and it feels as if they are asking me to agree with everything they've said.

As my grandmother used to tell me "Think before you talk and you'll never regret opening your mouth". Clever lady.

Grandpa said...

Denise! How cool is this!

You'll cringe even more if you were to come over here and listen to us speak Malaysian English or Singapore English (Singlish) - our sentences (if you can call them that) are full of 'la' , or 'lah' and the end for emphasis. That's in addition to the um and ahh and errr, errr, (while brain struggles to compose). To top all that we mix English words (containing most of the lazy words you mentioned) with Malay and Chinese - all in one sentence!! But amazingly our visitors get by somehow...LOL!

Mia Hayson said...

So true. Saying "like" is a very difficult habit to get out of though. Just when I think I am rid of it my teen brother starts talking to me and I pick it up again.

Very interesting post. I've never thought of them as "lazy words" per se but I guess that's because in informal settings I use them left right and centre. Teeeeheeee.

N. R. Williams said...

All great examples of lazy. One word that irks me, and its not lazy as much as used incorrectly is: seen. In America people have begun to use the word "seen" when they really mean "saw." "I seen him comin'." I want to jump in with an English lesson and I'm not the best at grammar.

P.S. I read the pub party post too. Great to learn more about our friend.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Francine Howarth said...


Hee hee, a right giggle post!!

Did I like tell ya, see it's all the youth of today's fault we're slipping in . . . uhhh . . . doggy word crap! It's supposed to be like cool!!! Hmmm, so why write words at all? Why not write a novel in txt tlk, lk tlkg trkys fn. Mite sl ebks betr!!!!!!! ;)


Dominic de Mattos said...

Hi Denise - this was a real hoot! (like)

I use exclamations mark in abundance, but, unless you have emoticons, they are the only way of adding tone of voice. That can be important as tone of voice can change the meaning of a sentence

You know what makes me laugh, Francine - the only people who text in txt spk in my neck of the woods are the parents! The kids are all using predictive text and typing with their qwerty keyboards in full!

Karen Lange said...

It is contagious! I try to speak without lazy words but it is hard not to do so sometimes. I became more conscious of this years ago when I had to speak to a group. I've gotten better but can slip back easily. Good post!

Elliot Grace said...

...Stephen King covers this in his biography, "On Writing." According to one of the best, he says that if the writing's good enough, such evil gibberish as exclamation marks, conjunctions, or creative silliness used for spicing up a lazy phrase or two, are just one more reason to go over the thing again...and make it better. (Easy for him to say:)


Denise Covey said...

Sylvia: I love my exclamation marks!

Alex: Yeah, like, crap.

loveable homebody: Yes, there is a right way. Well done.

Elissa: Ah, oui!

Grandpa: I'd love to hear that!

Mia: They are contagious.

Nancy: That use of 'seen' is rife all over the world.

Francine: Nice to see you outta bed and with that tktg thum ready. Cheeky whelp!

Dominic: Thts hilarious with the parents txtg.

Karen: Yes, it is!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

yarp.. I need to watch my lazy words more. I use 'em when I speak (particularly um) because I tell myself I don't care (thinking it's not that important -- I'm a writer not a speaker darnit!), but, as you say, they do then spread into my writing. It's good to be more disciplined, like, you know? ;)

Private said...

That's interesting... I find I use the word 'like' a lot. Like, all the time:) It's, like, my generation, I think.

erica and christy said...

Somehow my mom developed the bad habit of adding "to be perfectly honest with you." to the ends of some (too many) of her sentences. Once in awhile I just want to say "Aren't you always honest with me?" but I know she doesn't realize she does it.

My husband used to say "and stuff." when he thought his sentence was training off, but luckily I broke him of that one.

And yeah, sometimes my characters do stuff like that, too. :)

Alleged Author said...

Great post! Lazy words are like the plague. You hope you can expunge them from your work, but they insist upon taking over until they kill an entire ms. :P

Denise Covey said...

Lynda: Love that. A writer not a speaker, em, yeah, right!

Alexandra: Hi there!Yep, we can blame your generation!

Erica and Christy: Oh we know those mums!

Alleged Author: I find them in my writing...I like ellipsis you?

J.C. Martin said...

I think the overuse of adverbs and adjectives in writing is lazy, as it saves me from racking my brains for a much more literary and vivid way of describing something. Nevertheless, the crutches are necessary to get me through my first draft, and I try to remove them during revision. :)

Denise Covey said...

J.C.: Boy oh boy. How would we finish a first draft without lazy words?

Tony Benson said...

I'm definately guilty, and that's a fact. The, er, problem is I don't necessarily find them all when I'm like editing my work so my crit partners have to kinda point them out to me.

Denise Covey said...

Tony: Like, I find that so like hard to believe!

Michelle Merrill said...

Awesome Post! I totally use lazy words too. My dad used to challenge me to say a whole sentence without using the word like. I didn't think I said it all the time...but I really did.

Hart Johnson said...

Oi! And new ones creep in on you! My first book had WELL all over the place. Every piece of dialog was hedged *rolls eyes*. Lately, i've got apparently, and appeared, and seemed... in an effort of course, to have my MC assessing what some OTHER character is up to, but I really just need to note what they see and hear... get RID of the assumptions they are making that people don't make in real life all that often.

In my conversations though, it is the asterixisms that get me *shifty*

Jolene Perry said...

yeah... I think, I like... sorta know what you mean.

Denise Covey said...

Michelle: Yeah, you youngsters rock with the like like.

Hart: Don't we ever get our favourites? Apparently I use the verb 'was' a lot and 'felt'. As you say, cut them out and let the reader imagine.

ElliotGrace: Thanks for stopping by.

Joelene: I'm like sorta glad you like understand.

M Pax said...

Very clever. I don't think I use lazy words much. Sometimes in dialogue. I restrict exclamation points to dialogue, too. Takes practice. Now I have to eradicate semi colons.

Alyssa Fox said...

Hey there Crusader! I'm guilty of doing this too. I'll have to keep an eye out for it while I'm writing. Great article, by the way

Denise Covey said...

M Pax: Semi colons, hmm, I use them to show that I know how to use them, ha ha.

Alyssa: Pleased to meet you fellow crusader buddy!

Ellen Brickley said...

I loved this line so much: Ever heard someone use 'sort of' or 'sort of like'. Like 'I'm feeling sort of like um depressed?' No wonder.

'Realistically' is another one, like 'necessarily' and 'in reality'. I'm guilty of using 'like' a lot myself, the Irish always did and then the influx of Buffy-speak/Friends-ese brought us to the point where we now roam the country saying 'like' to each other repeatedly and thinking this passes for social intercourse. Cork city is especially famous for this, some inhabitants tend to tack 'like' on to the end of sentences ('I'm going to the shops, like.').

Ireland is drowning in a sea of 'likes', which at least helps to drown out the noise of the constant 'totally's.