Weasel words invade our stories when we’re not looking.
What are they?
According to Wikipedia, the expression first appeared in Stewart Chaplin’s short story Stained Glass Political Platform (published in 1900 in The Century Magazine), in which they were referred to as “words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell.”
Our job is to locate those unnecessary words and get rid of them.
Following are three categories of weasel words I’ve identified.
Words that lack clarity or introduce ambiguity
Solution: Be precise.
Before: She had a bit of a crush on Johnny Depp.
After: She had a crush on Johnny Depp.
Before: The tree was approximately ten feet tall.
After: The tree was ten feet tall.
Before: She was kind of interested in seeing the movie.
After: She was interested in seeing the movie.
Words that slow the action
all at once
Solution: Get into the action.
Before: Just then Tyler began to rev his Porsche’s engine.
After: Tyler revved his Porsche’s engine.
Words That Tip off Telling and Make for Shallow POV
Solution: Show and Use Deep POV
Before: Emily realized she was late for work and knew she had to kick it in high gear.
After: She was late for work. Time to kick it in high gear.
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These lists aren’t complete. Other words can sneak into our stories and weaken them. I’ll mention some more on Friday.
In sharing the lists, my goal isn’t to induce panic and send you to your WIP freaked out about every word choice. What I want is to help you identify weasel words you might want to eliminate when you’re performing your self-edits.
Not every word on these lists needs to be removed. In some cases, one of them might be the best choice. That decision is up to you. You know your story and what works best with your voice.
Here are four posts I found helpful when researching weasel words:
- Editing 101: Removing Weasel Words by K. Dawn Byrd
- Weasel words by Megan DiMaria
- Top Ten Types of Extraneous Words by Suzanne Hartmann
- Weasel Words by Heidi Main
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Are there certain words in these lists that cause you problems?
Do any of the words on the lists surprise you?
What words would you add?