Tuesday, March 25, 2014
by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine
I can't tell you how many debates I've been party to in which Susan Reichert has decried the use of "that" when it's out of place or unnecessary, as in "I think that she's right." I do think she's right about that.
One illuminating side of this coin of commonly coined words involves the intrinsic value of the pet word itself. I'll never forget a story I once read about John Lennon when he was writing the lyrics to a particular song. He was trying to come up with a line to rhyme with "go", "low" or some such "oh" verse. His wife Cynthia suggested, "How about 'I just don't know'?" Her offering was promptly shot down by Lennon, who criticized the word "just" as being a pointless word having no meaning.
Of course, in the right context, "just" has purpose, like when establishing the timing of something. "I just got back from the store" is more descriptive than "I got back from the store." But John had a point in that "I just don't know" is virtually the same as "I don't know." Ironically, some years later, he would write the line "...I just don't know how to feel" ("How", 1971).
Let's look at the words we tend to overuse in this light of their actual value. Eliminate unnecessary words but also replace general ones with something specific. If we can do that, that would be just great.