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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bag the Baggy Words!

Would you use the following sentence in your writing?  Nick walked into the room.  How about this one?  Jim wore a nice shirt. 

Both of those sentences have problems.  They contain "Baggy Words."  Baggy Words fit like loose  jeans that are five sizes too big, and they don't flatter anyone's shape because they are too baggy.   How did Nick enter the room?  Can you be more specific?  Did he saunter into the room?  Did he rush?  What about stroll, leap, stumble, or shuffle?  What if he felt tired?  How would he enter?  These verbs are far more descriptive and specific.

A writer's diction may be correct but still be vague and imprecise.  For example, many writers overuse such vague adjectives as nice, great, and good, and such vague verbs as do, say, and go.  Writers should try to find specific adjectives and verbs to say more exactly what they mean.

       VAGUE                                                                              SPECIFIC

The day was nice.                                     The day was mild and breezy.
Julie is a great dancer.                               Julie moves fluidly and rhythmically when she dances.
I did the grass.                                           I mowed and edged the lawn.
Bridget said good night.                            Bridget whispered good night.
Jack went through the leaves.                   Jack shuffled through the leaves.

Suppose you want to describe Jan's dress:  Jan wore a red dress.  You might want to be more specific about the color:  Was it fire-engine red, brick red, or strawberry red?  You might want to be more specific about the material:  Was it silk, polyester, or wool?

Suppose you write:  Mary lived in a small house on Second Street.  Can you make the house more specific:  a Cape Cod cottage, a split-level, or a row house?

Suppose a dog enters your composition.  Make it a specific dog:  a loyal old, limping hound; a melancholy-faced, playful poodle.

Need a little practice?  The following sentences are general and unspecific.  Can you make each one  more vivid and specific?

1.  The person by the door made a point.
2.  She took a vacation.
3.  Louie left the house.
4.  Flo has nice eyes.
5.  The unfavorable weather began on July 4.

Work on being detailed and specific in your writing by getting rid of the Baggy Words.  Otherwise, your editor might think you would be better off stuffed in a garment bag.

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