An enthusiastic new intern asked me: How did you learn to notice you’re using unnecessary words?
I had recently left a comment on her work asking if the ‘really’ in ‘really bad impression’ made any difference at all. This hyperbolic tendency follows writers from everyday speech — we routinely say ‘I’ll die of this boredom’ or ‘he has a face only a mother can love’ — exaggerating for dramatic effect. And because that isn’t emphasis enough, we literally hate pineapple on pizza too.
Semantic bleaching reduces the meaning of very, really, actually, quite etc. to add weight to the other words in the sentence. This is acceptable, even desirable in informal speech. It allows people to either blow things out of proportion or downplay them — expressing reality as reality is, in reality, a rarity.
But on paper, it weakens the effect of your writing and exposes you as a rookie writer. The usage will immediately make an astute reader look for something that’s not written by a dramatic adolescent.
However, you can still have a good idea that isn’t really yours. When used sparingly, intensifiers can help you create impact. The key is to be conscious of how often you’re using them and for what purpose.
Ask yourself: does the sentence lose value if I remove this word? In most cases, they can be safely discarded.
PS: Grammarly premium has a checker for words like this.
Written by Anitta Jose
I’m Anitta and I have an affinity for all things words: books, writing, conversations, ink pens and the like. A clever pun makes my entire day. I teach literature to college students for a living. I was one of the earliest interns at emdash, Ranjani’s B2B technology content consulting firm, where I learnt all I know about great writing and meticulous organising. I dream of embodying my passion for biryani as a profound book of recipes one day.