Prof. Irwin Corey, the satirist who bills himself as “the world’s foremost authority,” strides to the podium to start one of his comically convoluted lectures.
“However … ” he begins, and the audience — even those who have heard the bit a dozen times before — crack up.
When the good professor does it, it’s amusing. When writers engage in this sort of verbal throat-clearing, it’s maddening.
“To be sure” a writer might offer, for emphasis or as a segue, or — most likely — because he read it in someone else’s analysis and thought it sounded authoritative. Wrong. It's bilge. Stop wasting my time.
“Indeed … ” is another affectation, a written tic akin to the spoken “ya know” and “like” that taint the American discourse like grains of sand on your boardwalk frankfurter.
Another blight is “In fact,” which has the added effect of calling into question as nonfactual all that went before — not negating it outright, just raising that little specter of doubt about the verity and sincerity of what came before. One might as well say: "Everything up until now has been absolute b.s.; or maybe it wasn't."
Years ago I worked with one writer who was addicted to these toadstools; they sprouted all over his copy. So, one time I replaced them with “forsooth” and “verily,” and I sent the article back to him. He was slightly less than pleased — he suggested that I had been born out of wedlock, as I recall — but I had made my point, and it did sink in. Somewhat, anyway.
I worked with an arts writer who used the term “As such” frequently and incorrectly. I got to the point where I would just do a search and destroy on the phrase. It did wonders for her copy and for my tenuous sanity.
I see “But” and “And” all too often at the beginnings of sentences and even paragraphs. Allowing for conversational writings, I can see their value in the rhythm of certain phrases. The problem with using these conjunctions as lead-ins is that they most often are superfluous. If the next thought continues or affirms the previous one, the “and” is implicit; if it counters its predecessor, the same is true for “but.” Within a compound sentence, the conjunction is needed; using a semicolon works, too.
There are some other spoken globs that sully our exchanges, of course: “Going forward, we will ... ” Yeesh. If you're speaking in the future tense, the last thing you need is the phrase “going forward.” Put that in the same waste bin as "future plans."
Here’s another: “That being said …” It serves no purpose, beyond annoying the bejeezus out of people with that particular allergy (me). Worse, it’s wrongly phrased. It should be either, “That said …” or “That having been
said … ” because the saying of it is in the past. “That being said …” leaves it in the present. It should be left at the curb.
“In my personal opinion, I think …” No, I doubt you do
think; otherwise you wouldn’t preface an opinion, personal or otherwise, with such needless dreck.
Last (not “lastly,” and yes, that’s a mini-throat-clearer, too): “The thing is, is …” One less “is,” please. Better still would be to apply a gentle electric shock whenever anyone uses that phrase — nothing harmful, just enough to deter.
Is all I’m saying.
Rob Reinalda is the executive editor at Ragan Communications. A version of this story first appeared on Ragan.com.