Friday, July 4, 2008


We have had this conversation before, but it is good to remind you of it because--well, because it is something likely to recur.

It is one of those process things, a systemic glitch you find in any of a number of tangential and completely unrelated disciplines. As you essay different tasks, it may even chose to appear in different ways.

I speak of that old pest, the habit word, a fact I a aware of most times I undertake a content or copyediting assignment and, indeed (whoops, there's one now!) whenever I review your own work before submitting it to its Fate.

There is no comfort in the discovery of others having some of the same habit words you do; in fact, there is often a distinct undercutting of comfort, which very thing, comfort, happens to be one of the reasons you write in the first place. Perhaps the most common of all habit words--words you use to excess in a particular text to the extent of calling attention to the overuse--is and. It is not wrong to link independent clauses with and, but it does become repetitive and, alas, sounds clunky after a time, as though you were trying to imitate Hemingway and failing.

Indeed is another habit word you use to excess, doubtless from your intention of adding emphasis, although it must be said that you do not abuse in fact. Your next overkill is with Accordingly, which is nice, once in a while, to use at the beginning of a paragraph, or when springing the tail end of a syllogism, in place of ergo, which is a tad Latinate to your taste.

Your delicacy in presenting the concept of habit words to students is admirable; after all, some words and phrases are more clear-cut than others, simpler, more honest, the literary equivalent of the natural tan Ugg boot rather then some of the more noticeable permutations.

Said, on the other hand, is an acceptable habit word, particularly when it becomes apparent that some other writer than yourself is going to some extreme in order to avoid the repetition, thus drawing attention to the very thing they are trying to avoid.

I know that you exert some considerable effort to avoid the word that, simply because you find it flat, nondescriptive, clunky. Similarly do you find very a word worth avoiding and, thus, unlikely to find its way into your text even when you are working at full, focused speed. Some words fall onto your list because they are speed bumps for you, causing you to have to stop in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, forgetting the fine-tuned vector of your intent, searching now for substitutes or wondering what on earth you might have meant by a particular phrase before arriving at the speed bump and having to think your way out.

Yes, yes you know; language is symbol, capable of being understood when read or heard if presented with clarity. Language is often a clump of ideas, concepts, formulae. Just as often, it may be a clump of complex emotion that must be decoded, which is to say rendered into an exacting pattern of words which will convey to others the complex feelings you are experiencing and (indeed) conveying understanding of those complex feelings to yourself.

Make no mistake, because some words are your habit words, they are not transmogrified into bad words, judgmentally tainted words. They must simply be regarded in the same way as, say, a sign in a mall or parking lot, prohibiting skateboarding. You have no brief for such signs or such injunctions against skating or skateboarding, but because you do have a feel for The social contract, you think, okay, I'll uphold the law. In this case, I'll try to knock the habit words out of my revisions.

You sound different, someone says. Yes, because I have interdicted my habit words.

I thought something was different.

Which brings forth an interesting question: Does the retention of habit words forge or preclude an individual style?

You know what I mean?

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