Lose Your Security Blanket

Wednesday Words: an occasional series on writing

Security blanket. We all have one (or a few). No, I’m not talking about a baby “blankey.” I’m talking about our security-blanket words, the words (or phrases) we use over and over again because we feel most comfortable with them.

Recently I had a client who seemed to love the word yet. It appeared in almost every paragraph I edited. Another client was a big fan of galvanize. I swear, before I worked with her, I had probably encountered the word three times in my life, if that; suddenly, with her, it was everywhere. I’m not immune either. My senior year of college I went through a foster phase (e.g., fostering better communication…) and a said stage (e.g., In said paper, he wrote…). And even nowadays I often latch on to a certain word or phrase, and it stays in the running for a while.

People, don’t become The Yet Yeti or Galvanize Gal.You don’t want your readers to be bored (How about still, however, or nevertheless instead of yet?), nor do you want them to come to expect that every proposal, report, or email will have a certain, perhaps unnecessarily complicated, word (and turn your content into the subject of a drinking game — it’s been known to happen…).

The world is full of so many wonderful and beautiful words! Don’t get stuck on just one.

(Note: if you’re writing branding material this is probably not the right time to change your language.)

If you find yourself constantly using the same word or phrase over and over, and not for deliberate consistency/branding purposes (and believe me, I am a huge stickler for consistency), ask yourself:

  1. Can I use a different word or phrase instead? 
    I know in my last post I said, “Resist the thesaurus,” and I stand by that (!), but if you find yourself getting too cozy with certain words, now is the time to seek out the other fish in the sea! Still, don’t get too crazy. I said fish, not sharks…
  2. Can I combine, or rearrange, two (or a few) sentences, thus removing at least one appearance of my security-blanket word?
  3. Can I present this information in a different way? 
    Unfortunately this does not apply to all fields or writing projects, but if you’re stuck word-wise, maybe a graph, chart, or bullets would work instead?

My cousin and her three-year-old daughter recently tied her pacifiers to helium balloons and set them free — let’s do the same with our own (linguistic) security blankets! :)