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:
What are your weasel words?
Avoiding Weasel Words
- 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
- 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)
- 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!
What are your tips for avoiding weasel words?
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