A while ago Martin and I discussed the abuse of certain words in everyday conversation. The main culprits are: literally; actually; basically; in fact; honestly; apparently; allegedly. The most over-used of the bunch are literally and actually.
Unfortunately, when you sensitise yourself to a subset of words you notice them in other people’s conversation, and you come to the awful realisation that you throw the words into sentences all the damn time!
Ouch, ouch, it bruises as I am bucked off my high horse.
At the moment I’m trying to eradicate these words from my speech (unless they are appropriate). They rarely make it into my writing, because I do my best to write concise, vigorous prose. In casual conversation, however, all the rules disappear and clichés chinwag with redundant phrases while split infinitives gossip with facile metaphors. It’s embarrassing.
If I exercise a little more consideration in my spoken exchanges I suspect it will enforce the rules I apply when writing (the golden rule is courtesy of William Strunk Jr.: “Omit needless words.”).
Words like actually and literally are filler words. You throw them in as you grope towards completing a sentence. It’s like clearing your throat, without the impression that you’re ill.
I remember when I noted to Martin that the word “pop” is over-used in cookery programs on television. In the space of five minutes the chef had popped the butter into the pan, popped the vegetables into boiling water, popped the tart into the oven, etc., etc. We made a binging noise every time something popped. If we’d invented a drinking game to coincide with the use of pop we’d have been passed out on the floor afterwards.
Yesterday we watched a cookery programme in which the chef abused literally and pop. At first it was funny, but eventually it was distracting, and a little depressing.
I will warn you that you’re going to be a little self-conscious about your speech in the coming days. Every time you feel an actually or literally slide towards your lips you will gulp it back, and fumble for a meaningful word instead as your friends look at you a little weird because of your strange new stammer. Hopefully it will pass.