Weasel Words

by Megan DiMaria

Weasel words are words that somehow manage to weasel themselves into our writing, but are passive, weak words, and generally lazy writing.

Most authors must learn to eliminate weasel words from their writing. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and many writers choose to do a search and replace once their book/article is finished.

According to Wikipedia, the expression weasel word derives from the egg-eating habits of weasels. An egg that a weasel has sucked will look intact to the casual observer, while actually being empty. Similarly, words or claims that turn out to be empty upon analysis are known as “weasel words.” 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.”

The following is a list of weasel words to eliminate from your writing. This list is not exhaustive, but you’ll get the point.

• Passive verbs—was, were, had –replace with an action verb. The cat was on the floor,” should be changed to, “The cat reclined.”

• Vague “its.” It is a pronoun used to replace other things.

• Just

• Just then

• Thought

• Wonder

• That

• Started to

• Decided

• It was

• Were

• All at once

• Immediately

• Mused

• To be

• Sigh

• Really

• Sure

• Often

• For the most part

• Usually

• Like

• Well

• Might

• Very

• Rather

• Began to

• Started to

• Some

• Suddenly

• Thought, wondered, mused

• Adverbs—especially when used in a speaker attribution: “said angrily.” For example, “spoke softly, ” should be changed to “whispered.” Instead of writing, “walked confidently,” use the word, “strutted.”

• Putting backstory in the first 30 pages of a novel creates 30 pages of weasel words. Don’t do it.

• Stating the obvious creates weasel words. RUE = resist the urge to explain. Our readers are not stupid.

• Simultaneous action AKA “the –ing thing,” creates weasel words. “Closing the door, she walks away.” She can’t do both at the same time.

Also be weary of italics. One writing professional told me italics are like roaches, too many are aggravating. However, in my humble opinion one roach is unacceptable and more are quite more than aggravating.

Used with permission. Originally posted on Examiner.com: Weasel words – Denver writing | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/writing-in-denver/weasel-words#ixzz1GxIb5Dn9

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Megan DiMaria has been a freelance writer for 20 years and is the author of two women’s fiction novels, Searching for Spice and Out of Her Hands, both of which are set in the Denver area. She is a member of several writers’ groups and enjoys encouraging other writers in their pursuits. Visit Megan’s website to learn more about her and her books at http://www.megandimaria.com

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