Weak Words

One of my all-time favorite bloggers—Jeri Walker—explored “Weak Words” in a recent post on her Word Bank blog. This post inspired me to strip away all sorts of unnecessary adverbs and to transform ordinary words into stronger more specific descriptors. ‘Rapid’ is so much faster than the weaker ‘very fast.’ Isn’t it?

When you review text with this focused mission in mind, all sorts of things happen. First, the text gets tighter. Then the dialog gets punchier. And finally, you start to find the weak and redundant language that weighs readers down.

A few days after I read Jeri’s post, I saw this advertisement on a subway. The photograph cuts off the name of the business. It’s one of the many companies offering to take over the day-to-day hassles of billing, payroll, human resources paperwork, etc., that mire some entrepreneurs. As far as I’m concerned, the ad copywriter’s desire to emphasize a point backfired. Adding “very” to “unique” weakens the otherwise compelling statement. Perhaps the writer and client thought “very unique” was cute? I don’t. I think it sounds mushy and silly. It dilutes the specific definition of ‘unique’ by making it possible to be more, or less, one-of-a-kind.

Now I’m on a quest to find more weak word examples to share. But my mission is to strip those pesky extras from my written communications. The one exception is in dialog where the weak words reflect the reality of the character. That caveat aside, I’m going for strength!

Weak words are everywhere—in ads, store signage, instructions, menus...

Weak words are everywhere—in ads, store signage, instructions, menus…


  1. There’s a free online program called The Hemingway App which I use. You enter your text, and it will highlight all the adverbs, awkward sentences, etc. I don’t agree with everything it highlights – it’s only a program, after all – but it’s useful for bringing weak words to the surface! (There’s also a paid version of the app you can download to your computer, and I’ve got nothing to do with the company – I just like the app).

    • Candy Korman

      As of right now, I want to spot ’em and shoot ’em down on my own. I’ve already noted the changes in my business text. If the client wants me to wax poetic and sprinkle pretty words like powdered sugar, I will do it. But if they want to get to the point, I go straight there!

      Thanks again for sharing the inspiring Weak Words post.

  2. You get to see a lot of ad copy in your neck of the woods given the prevalence of public transportation. In my neck of the woods, I probably see more misspellings on billboards and business signs. In any case, weak words really are wasted words. It’s becoming so commonplace that people might even be losing the ability to recognize them. They’re like background noise. It makes a good point for writing exercises that call for cutting length or stating a sentence five different ways. Every time I write a list of possible taglines for a client, I’m always delighted by how much more succinct each one gets.

    • Candy Korman

      I “cut my teeth” writing ad copy. My dad was a master of succinct writing. When we had our ad agency short/to the point was our style. Of course there are times and reasons for luxurious sentences, filled with flowery language and sensory references. The challenge in that kind of ad copy, is to appear to be languid, without unnecessary words.

      It’s another writing challenge!

  3. Sorry to play Devil’s Advocate, but I always read my own writing out loud to make sure it’s musical, or at least doesn’t jar, and after the first read of the Adv. I read it out loud too. What I found was that the inclusion of ‘very’ balanced the sound of the sentence. If you say the sentence aloud [with the very included] it has a pleasing rhythm. Take out the very and it sounds almost incomplete.
    Whether this was deliberate or not is up for debate.

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, poetry is always important. And, perhaps, “very” balanced the sound, but… very unique weakens unique. It makes unique as common as “unusual.” LOL!

      I read my text out loud, too. The sound of the words, the flow, the rhythm, are all part of good writing. But I think that peeling off the unnecessary modifiers is making my writing more poetic and not less. But the next time I’m hovering over a word to delete, I will give it an loud and clear read. Thanks for playing the Devil, his role as a critic is… CRITICAL!