In a webinar I created a couple of years ago, I compared cluttered writing to a junk-filled attic.
The following bits of verbal rubbish could present a stumbling hazard to your readers.
Here, in no particular order, are 12 modifiers that belong in the trash can—or maybe the recycling bin. (Some are superfluous only in certain contexts.)
New. "The construction crew erected a building." Was it new? Of course. Do you need to say new. Of course not. It's implicit. If your company introduces a product or launches a service, new is redundant. A "new initiative" is utterly heinous. Fresh can fall into this category, too. "I brewed a pot of fresh coffee." If you just tossed some whole beans into a grinder before brewing then you could proclaim, "I brewed a pot of freshly ground coffee." I think you should; you've earned it.
Some/any. These murky quantifiers usually add nothing. "Do we have any châteaubriand?" "No, how about some liverwurst instead?"
Earlier/later. When I was a newspaper editor, these two were lightning rods for verbal challenges—especially on the first or last day of a month. "What do you mean earlier this month? It's the 31st; it would have to be earlier." The converse applies to later this month. However, on the 15th of the month, they're usually needless as well, simply because of the verb tense. "The senator introduced the bill this month." It had to have been earlier. "The congressman will testify this month." Here, the future tense makes it clear that before the month is over, that lying, cheating weasel is going to get grilled. It's about time, too.
Yet/already/so far. The premise of the previous entry applies here, too. The verb does the work, rendering the modifiers pointless, as in: "I haven't vacuumed the bathtub yet."
Personally. "I personally believe that rum raisin is the best ice cream flavor." Next time you impersonally believe something, let me know—and feel free to reinsert personally into all your future declarations of preference. (I'd go with vanilla toffee crunch, in case you care.)
Potentially/possibly. These adverbs crop up in emphasizing can or could. It's gilding the lily. You don't need 'em, so ditch 'em.
Further. There's no need to further elaborate, nor further expand. The sense of progression that further conveys is implicit in those verbs and their ilk.
At all. This two-word tacked-on phrase serves no purpose (at all).
Extra/added. People seem unable to resist attaching one (or, heaven help us, both) of these flaccid modifiers to the word bonus. A bonus is extra; it is added.
And also. While you're at it, why not write "in addition"—too.
Currently. This one seems especially popular on voicemail greetings: "I am currently unavailable, but if you leave a message…" Come to think of it, maybe the person was unavailable at the time of the recording (hence, currently), but is there now, fully able to take the call, but refusing to answer—out of spite. Of all the stinking, low-down, dirty, rotten…
This last entry leads us to the grand prize winner, la crème de la crème, the Big Kahuna of wasted letters and syllables (drum roll, please):
In the process of. "Lady Winnifred is in the process of spelunking, but please return later, and she'll be delighted to defenestrate you then." Remove the vexing verbiage, and nothing is lost. (I recently saw "currently in the process of" in a piece of text. I plucked it like a tick from a sheepdog.)
This list is, by design, incomplete. Please offer your "favorite" bits of verbal clutter in the comments.
Oh, and if you quibble that there are actually more
than 12 words and phrases listed, it's because I went by the number of entries—wouldn't want you to feel cheated, after all. Lucky you—an extra, added bonus
. Why, it's almost like a free gift
Rob Reinalda is executive editor at Ragan Communications.