Dreyer’s No-No Words

Dreyer’s No-No Words July 24, 2019

I try to read one book on writing each year. This year’s book is the always witty Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.

His opening chapter gives twelve words not to use. That’s right, he says, wipe them out entirely. Here they are, well, here is his opening discussion:


Go a week without writing

quite [SMcK: on p. 8 one meets “Quite”]

And you can toss in— or, that is, toss out— “just” (not in the sense of “righteous” but in the sense of “merely”) and “so” (in the “extremely” sense, though as conjunctions go it’s pretty disposable too).

Oh yes: “pretty.” As in “pretty tedious.” Or “pretty pedantic.” Go ahead and kill that particular darling.

And “of course.” That’s right out. And “surely.” And “that said.”

And “actually”? Feel free to go the rest of your life without another “actually.’

If you can last a week without writing any of what I’ve come to think of as the Wan Intensifies and Throat Clearers—I wouldn’t ask you to go a week without saying them; that would render most people, especially British people, mute—you will at the end of that week be a considerably better writer than you were at the beginning.

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  • Ben

    Which book on writing has been your favorite so far?

  • In fact, I actually so agree with these really quite commonsense suggestions in most cases. That said, it would often, in fact, surely be pretty hard to write rather realistic dialogue if these were treated as very rigid rules. Just saying.

  • scotmcknight

    Zinsser’s On Writing Well, but this might top it. Surely that’s not very overstated, in fact, of course.

  • Ben

    Ha! Thanks!