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Words to avoid: the most overused words and phrases in the English language. (Editing).

If language is currency, using overused words and phrases causes inflation and thereby cheapens one's own writing and speaking. To maintain the pristine value of communications, I'd suggest banning the use of the following:

Literally--Lately, it's become one of the least literally used words in our language. Overuse begets misuse. The word has become an intensifier rather than an adverb signifying "in the literal or strict sense."

"I literally died laughing," a woman recently told me. I wanted to reply, "You look alive to me, if also a bit slow-witted."

* Hopefully--Talk about overuse begetting misuse. This word has long lost its literal meaning as an adjective signifying "with hope," as in, "He looked hopefully into her eyes." Now the word is just plain filler, the crab grass of adverbs, blighting the linguistic landscape.

* Actually--I think this is the signature word of the current twentysomethings, and it's rapidly spreading throughout the population. Listen for it, and you'll hear actually dozens of times a day. It is, however, the least harmful, or innocuous, of these overused words.

Actually, it's somewhat appealing. It gives the speaker a slight but impressive aura of knowing more than you expected. You ask for Mr. Reeves over the telephone and the receptionist replies, "Actually... [usually followed by a pause] Mr. Reeves is not in his office at the present time."

* Bottom line--As reported in Editor & Publisher, Sanders Lamont, ombudsman for The Sacramento Bee, recently conducted a five-year electronic file search of cliches that have been printed too often in his paper, and the winner (or loser) was bottom line, with no fewer than 2,638 appearances.

Like military and sports terms, business ones enjoy a dismaying (and often inappropriate) popularity in our language. Bottom line rates a wide variety of human activity and emotion with a commercial, or a capitalist, measuring stick.

"The bottom line is she doesn't love you."

"Her heart has a bottom line?"

"That's right. You have no ROI." What happened to the more poignant unrequited love?

* Address--One can address envelopes and address an audience, but the recent proliferation of this verb has--like kudzu-- choked out precise, meaningful verbs. "Address this issue" is probably the most common phrase coming out of Washington, D.C. these days.

Address as a verb is the most overused of all these overused words, but its misuse has been around long enough that Jacques Barzun railed against it in 1992:

"Everything these days is addressed instead of being dealt with, discussed, stated, mentioned, defined, taken up, met, treated, acknowledged, recognized, settled by the court, taken care of, resolved."

Barzun also summed up the problem of what he called "vogue words" which "reduce accuracy." "By appearing again and again in all sorts of situations they keep better-fitting words out of use.
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Author:Swift, Paul
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Nov 15, 2001
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