Weasel words

Avoiding weasel words

I had a professor in university who said “you know” like it was going out of style. We made a game out of counting how many times he’d use his weasel words during a one hour lecture just to pass the time (it remained the most interesting part of class all semester).

Weasel words are qualifiers that make statements (and writing) inconclusive and vague. Most of us use these terms and they are distracting from the overall message. If you pair them with passive voice, you have a recipe for disaster.

The worst offenders for me are by far “just” and “that.” I try to be mindful of avoiding weasel words when I’m writing, but they still catch me. You should also watch out for:

Suddenly Very Every
Some Most Like
A bit Well Often
Probably Quite Possibly
Although However But
Seem As While
So Then Many
Actually Arguably Somewhat

What are weasel words

What are your weasel words? 

Avoiding Weasel Words

When I’m editing a book, a simple “CTRL F” will easily find all instances of my weasel words in the manuscript. But what do I do after they’re found? I ask myself these questions:

  1. Does the sentence make sense without it, or does it need to be there? Sometimes, you do need to use weasel words, but don’t overuse them
  2. Does it sound natural? Dialogue is meant to sound colloquial and weasel words can be appropriate if a character is saying them (but please don’t say them when you’re talking or you’ll find out years later someone was counting how many times you did)
  3. What am I actually trying to convey? If I’m using weasel words, then maybe I need to re-evaluate what I’m trying to get across if it’s taking me so many unnecessary words to try and say it!

Don’t forget to check out the books that have made me a better writer, my craft advice and helpful submission tips for more writing tips and hacks!

What are your tips for avoiding weasel words?

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