It’s impossible to count how many words are in the English language, but I think we can all agree that whatever that number is, it must be ginormous. Yes, “ginormous” is actually in the dictionary, proving just how fluid our language is and how it’s expanding indefinitely. There’s a massive amount of words to choose from when we’re trying to decide how best to communicate our ideas.
If that’s so, then why do we tend to stick to a much smaller group of words in our daily vocabularies? It’s especially true when we’re speaking – can you imagine casually commenting to someone on the elevator that, “The climate is particularly agreeable presently”? No. It’s much easier (and less strange) to say, “It’s nice out today.”
Don’t force vocab variety with highfalutin words
The easy way out works in everyday spoken conversation because we want to make sure people know what we’re talking about, and sometimes we have no idea if our target audience, i.e. the person we’re speaking with, is of the same intelligence.
You’ve probably had a conversation with someone who didn’t take this route and wasn’t on your level, using words you had no idea existed. Did your eyes glaze over? Did you say “What?” more than once? Did you think the individual was a pretentious jerk? Probably.
“Ginormous” is actually in the dictionary, proving just how fluid our language is and how it’s expanding indefinitely.
However, when we’re writing, it’s much more acceptable to reach further into our brains to pull out typically underused words. Especially considering that, as a writer, we have specific target audiences to help us tailor our vocabularies. If a client wants to reach out to the average Joe, we’re not going to toss around words like “recondite” or “sibylline,” but that still allows for plenty of creativity. If we’re writing for a healthcare-related company targeting medical practitioners, we can get away with writing things like “deamidize” and “weddellite,” but probably not words like “gal” or “groupie.”
Avoid a repetitious rut
Despite all this literary freedom, as an editor, I find myself flagging repetitive words and phrases more times than I can count. It’s not just for silly sentences full of the same words that were written quickly during an off moment, but for words or phrases that tend to be reused over and over again – even if it’s not in the same article.Ask me how I feel about “plethora,” “slew,” “myriad,” “hustle and bustle,” “verdant” and “tight-knit community.” Actually, don’t. I’ll get too heated.
It’s easy for content writers to fall into a vocabulary rut when they’re covering the same topics on a daily basis – particularly in niche fields where there’s a distinct jargon, but that doesn’t mean we should!
At the same time, inserting ridiculous synonyms just for the sake of variety isn’t going to cut it – it’s too wordy. So how can we avoid repetition in our writing, while making sure that our efforts are still easily understood?
When it’s time for a word choice intervention
There are three main methods we can employ:
1. Find a synonym – Use “fabulous” instead of “great.”
2. Use a substitute – Choose a pronoun instead of yet another “small businesses.”
3. Get rid of it – Delete unnecessary words like “you can” and “you should.”
It’s hard to tell when we’re being repetitive in our own writing, but that’s what editors are for!
We should really encourage ourselves to break free of our standard vocabularies when we’re writing – within reason.
They’re there to show you which words you have a worryingly close relationship with and have a tendency to overuse. We might think “myriad” is a much more interesting way to say “many,” but it’s not if we’re sticking it in every article we write. After a while, some blog follower is going to wonder why the person writing this stuff isn’t being more creative.
While it’s perfectly OK to stick to your comfort zone in everyday conversation, we should really encourage ourselves to break free of our standard vocabularies when we’re writing – within reason. At a time when there is no short supply of content and you need to compete to keep readers on your article, think about if you really want to write “slew” again. It might miss the mark with your audience, and force your editor to clench her fists in fury, yelling, “ARGHH! NOT AGAIN!”