Moondust and houseboats…

Posted by on December 10, 2010

I saw this quote on the Guardian books blog the other day, taken from the paper’s style guide:

very
usually very redundant. Mark Twain wrote: ‘Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”. Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.’

This struck me as good advice, not just for very, but for any word that students tend to overuse. Have them replace the overused word with another that is highly unlikely to be appropriate (it doesn’t have to be damn, you could use anything – salmon, moondust, houseboat – whatever takes your fancy) and remind them to read their work through (ideally out loud), before submitting it. The substitute word will stand out like a sore thumb, and will hopefully make them stop and think about whether the overused word it represents is really necessary.

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