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Breaking Down the 'Crutch Words' in Legal Blogging

In The Atlantic Wire today (via Kashmir Hill), Jen Doll has an insightful and quite funny article about the use of "crutch words." Crutch words, she explains, are

those expressions we pepper throughout our language as verbal pauses, and sometimes as written ones, to give us time to think, to accentuate our meaning (even when we do so mistakenly), or just because these are the words that have somehow lodged in our brains and come out on our tongues the most, for whatever reason. 

For example, Doll notes, Vice President Joe Biden used the word "literally" at least nine times in his speech at the Democratic National Convention last week. "Literally," however, is just one of many crutch words, and Doll walks through 13 others -- some of which I painfully recognize from my own writing and that of many of the law bloggers that I read:

"Basically" -- I plead guilty to the use of this crutch word, and I think Doll nails it when she explains who uses this word and why:

You like to cut to the chase, to synopsize, to bring things down to old bottom line of what's really, truly important ... So, basically, this is what you do. You talk for a long time, maybe, and then you sum up what you really meant to say with a basically. Everything else was just chatter, but it got you to where you were going, so, basically, that's OK with you. Basically, that's it.

I think "basically" is a major crutch word for bloggers in general, as we sometimes get started on one path, deviate a bit, find some other shiny object to talk about, and then try to wrap things up and focus the chatter at the end with a "basically." Like I said -- I know I'm guilty of this one.

"Apparently" -- This is definitely another common blogger crutch word and is, as Doll notes, in the same family as "reportedly." Most bloggers are not reporters and are not calling sources or wearing out shoe leather to cover events. Instead, we often rely on other sources, which makes "apparently" quite handy. Doll says "apparently" is 

a way of getting out of a tricky situation. If someone else says it, you see, you're free and clear to repeat it. Apparently sheds a bit of dubiousness upon the fact or analysis, and therefore, you've covered yourself if it turns out not to be true. It was only apparent! Not your fault ... except, you did repeat it. 

Doll breaks down numerous other crutch words, including:

  • As it were. (If you use this, Doll says, "you're the most self-aware of crutch-word users, because you know you're saying something rather cliched, a hackneyed expression or at best an aging metaphor, and yet you're going forward with it anyway.")
  • At the end of the day. ("If you use the English language's worst phrase, you are the forward thinker of crutch-word users. You know each day has an end, and some day we will reach it, and therefore this phrase will be relevant, except really it's not. ...")

The full list is here. Basically, I liked it.

Posted by Bruce Carton on September 11, 2012 at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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