April 26th, 2012


Weasel Words

That "almost" thing is really pervasive. Last night, I was watching this week's Game of Thrones episode OnDemand, and after the episode they have a short "inside the episode" feature in which the writers, producers, directors, etc. talk about key elements of the episode. One of the producers was discussing the meeting between the two brothers who are vying for the throne, which was essentially a "Yeah, you and what army?" "This army, you dumbass!" kind of spat, and he described them as being "almost like a couple of teenage boys." I shouted at the TV, "No, they're exactly like a couple of teenage boys, no 'almost' about it." Really, the word "like" makes it a simile and tells us that it's just a comparison so we know they're not literally a couple of teenagers. We don't need the "almost." Unless, of course, what he meant by "almost like a couple of teenage boys" was that they were acting like they were almost teenagers, as in about twelve.

That's the other problem with this "almost" thing. Sometimes it's vague writing because being "almost something" isn't very specific. You can usually find a different word that will describe exactly what you want without the "almost." So "preteen" or "twelve" instead of "almost teenage." Or one that's very common (I'm sure I've used it): "So dark it was almost black." Well, what kind of almost black? Really dark blue? Really dark gray? An absence of light?

I've found that I most often allow myself to use "almost" in a snarky sense, where what I'm conveying is that something is falling short. Say that someone who's usually really nasty does something that's less nasty. A character might remark, "Wow, that was almost nice. Are you feeling well?" Or when it's meant to show that someone can't commit to coming out and saying something, like in the show tune "Almost Like Being in Love," where the singer is in love, but he's not quite ready to admit it. He's using a weasel word because he is weaseling.

But enough of that. I'm almost (ugh) driving myself crazy with it. No, I am driving myself crazy with it. I have yet another word to add to my list of words I do a global search for and evaluate each use of before I do a final proofread on a manuscript. Others include "just," "starting," "kind of" and "sort of." All of these are weasel words, backing off from making a strong assertion.

In other news, preschool choir was interesting last night, as the teachers had about the same attention span as the kids, and we were mostly killing time because we only have one more session before the end-of-year program, and then we're done. Our kids know the songs we're singing in church and in the end-of-year program so well there's a danger that they'll be bored with them by the time we get there. We played a lot of musical chairs and follow-the-leader, and I was used repeatedly as a jungle gym. I may have also had a crazy moment and volunteered to do this again next year. Maybe we can move up to kindergarten and get the same kids again.