Writing Tips

Useless Words

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Whether Pigs Have Wings

Two Words That Signal the Most Verbiage

I think we left off last time with Tweedledee telling Alice about the Walrus:

 

“’The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘to talk of many things,
of ins – and ofs – and useless words
and whether pigs have wings.’”

Which is so ironic: just as the mischievous Tweedle twins strut through Alice’s dream, so ins and ofs prance through our writing, dosey doe in and out of our sentences, then duck and hide among gatherings of words that mean nothing. They are drawn to the absurd and unnecessary, and we hardly notice them nestled there.

 

But let’s separate them just long enough to see how these two tiny English words attach themselves like barnacles to nearly half of the verbiage we write. Here’s a portrait of each, frozen in various poses:

 

of

This is a tiny amount of our income that could save millions of people.
They want to subscribe, but they don’t like the idea of paying $4.99 a month.
An American will consume 21,000 entire animals in the course of a lifetime.
We even toyed with the notion of setting up our own bottling plant.
The head-to-head conflict between her and McMurphy creates the story and reveals the their essential character of each of them.

in

All of this is just as he had pictured it in his mind.
We have significant tax issues in the event that if we sell it.
It will make you wonder why we even bothered to apply in the first place.
Christian Dior acted quickly in an effort to limit any damage to the brand.
In an attempt to root his food, Brock turned agricultural anthropologist.
Those statements can be as general or as detailed in nature as you desire.

 

Sometimes, they squish a useless phrase between their little round bodies.

 

Our literary era has offered little in the way of insight into the workings of the human soul.

 

I am in the process of reviewing all of our catering accounts.

 

Other times they separate to frolic randomly in the same sentence:

 

So it is, in a sense, acting as a kind of “police officer” for the way in which how sentences are constructed.

The sole dispute in this matter is whether the plaintiff is entitled to a rescission of rescind the loan under the Truth in Lending Act.

The problem of describing the ways in which how film and theatre diverge is a lot like trying to define the difference between a cat and a dog.

 

Why do ins and ofs fraternize with words that have no meaning? I don’t know; I know only that they do. The immortal words of Tweedledee might shed light:

 

“If it was so, it might be;
and if it were so, it would be.
But as it isn’t, it ain’t.
That’s logic.”

 

Contrariwise, I can’t explain it any better.

(Tweedledum asked me to remind you that of the 21 edits above, WordRake would have made 19 for us at the push of a button. See you 'round the mulberry bush.)

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

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