They may be different for each author, but we all have our weasel words. Like the animal they’re named after, they pop up in unexpected places. They often slip past our awareness when reviewing our work. We are so used to using them that they often don’t even register in our brain as a problem.
What are weasel words? They are unnecessary words that add little or nothing to our writing.
Here are some common types of weasel words:
- That ( I know that he is a good person. BETTER = I know he is a good person.)
- A second preposition (The dog buried the bone down under the sandbox. BETTER = The dog buried the bone under the sandbox.)
- Just (Just give it a little more gas. BETTER = Give it a little more gas.)
- A generic verb with an adverb (She ran quickly across the parking lot. BETTER = She darted across the parking lot.)
- Repetition (He will arrive at 12:00 noon. BETTER = He will arrive at noon; The lion roared loudly. BETTER = The lion roared; She drove a tiny, compact car. BETTER = She drove a compact car.)
All forms of the verb “to be” are weasel words (was, is, were, are, will be, should have been, etc.). To cover all the ways they sneak into our writing would take another article, but suffice it to say that your writing will be much tighter without it. Although it can be time-consuming, the best way to flush out this particular brand of weasel words is to search for the most common one, “was,” and try to change the wording to eliminate every single one. Leave only those that create an extremely awkward sentence structure without it.
As you become more aware of weasel words in your writing, start a list of the ones you have a tendency to use. Knowing what they are is more than half the battle towards eradicating them. Catch weasel words while writing if you can, but once you know which ones you generally use, you don’t have to worry if they sneak past you as long as you take the time to search specifically for them. Your readers will appreciate it (and your editor will love you for it :O)
For more information about weasel words, along with more detailed descriptions of how to flush the weasel words out of your writing and a host of examples, subscribe to our newsletter (in the upper right corner of this page). With your subscription, you can receive a copy of my e-book called Weasel Words to Watch For.