When I was in high school, my junior year English teacher had a saying: “Words are power.” I’ll bet she said it at least 4 times a week. She would pull out example after example to prove her point even though no one in the class disagreed with her.
We all knew words were important and should be taken seriously, it’s why we were in AP Writing & Literature in the first place, but that didn’t stop her telling us about the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence and Mel Gibson’s speech from Braveheart.
Oh yes, words are power all right. It was drilled into my brain and resounds with me to this day. It still irks me when my wife or friends send me texts saying “your” when they mean “you’re” or “its” when they mean “it’s”. They aren’t huge deals in texts, but they’re HUGE deals in your writing.
The list that will follow this introduction are merely pet peeves of mine and you are free to disagree with me (although Ms. Davidson’s junior English class will tell you you’re wrong), but I truly believe words are power and the misuse of words not only is a misuse of power, it also makes you look like a doody-head.
Let’s do this.
7 Words or Phrases That Make Your Writing Appear Crappy
- Your/You’re & Their/There/They’re – I’ve already mentioned this one in text context, but let me reiterate: Use the words you mean and use them correctly. If you are trying to tell us that “they are” going to do something, use the proper conjunction. For example:
Incorrect: See that blog over their, there writing is terrible and I never want to read it. I think I’ll burn they’re house to the ground.
Correct: Words are power and when used incorrectly, they’re going to make you sound like a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.
Let’s get this out of the way and move on:
- There = A Place
- Their = People’s Stuff
- They’re = “They are”
- Your = Your Stuff
- You’re = “You are”
- “Utilize” and other Ten Dollar Nonsenses – You aren’t getting paid by the syllable over here, Charles Dickens. No one thinks you’re any smarter than you actually are because you use a triple syllabic word where a monosyllabic will work just fine. I don’t want to feel like I’m reading the instructions for a 1980s VCR when I’m reading your post about the differences between Outbound and Inbound Marketing. Tell me what I need to know, in the best way possible, and move on. If you’re smart, I’ll catch on and think you’re smart. If you’re not, adding in words like “utilize” or “objurgate” isn’t going to convince me otherwise.
- Irregardless – This isn’t a word. Stop using it. It makes you sound stupid.
- Fewer vs. Less – A lot of you are probably getting this wrong and you don’t even realize it. These two words are NOT interchangeable. Fewer refers to things that are countable and have specific numerical values, such as money, buildings, human beings or boogers. Less refers to things that can’t be counted like happiness, stupidity or common sense. For example:
- Frank Dickinson had fewer baked beans than Danny Brown, so he made less of a stink in the elevator.
- Effect vs. Affect – One is a noun and one is a verb. They are extremely different. Learn the difference and use them accordingly. (Here’s a hint – Affect is the verb as in “His shitty writing affected his website’s traffic and his dreams of being a blogger-turned-TV-show-host”.)
- Its vs. It’s – This one took me for a loop most of my life. Honestly, it’s only been the last year or two that I’ve really had a handle on it. Here’s the skinny: Its = possessive and refers to things that belong to its. It’s = “it is”
- Putting Two Spaces After Periods – Argue with me all you want, but this is no longer necessary. If you want the long explanation, check out this article in Slate, but for our purposes, let’s just say it’s an antiquated rule based on type-faces available to printers at the time and has no bearing on our writing today. This habit took me a few weeks to break, but there is absolutely no reason why you should be putting two spaces after every period in your blog writing anymore. Stop it.
Okay, that’s my list. You may agree and you may disagree, but personally I don’t care. When I come across writing with any one of these mistakes repeated multiple times, I tend to take a good, long look at the author and assess the necessity of the blog in my Google Reader. And I know that “language is an evolving art” and blah, blah, blah, but some things are wrong and that’s just the way things are, so quit your belly-aching and stop using “your” when you mean “you’re”.
What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to blogs and writing? (Note: the first person to leave the comment “My biggest pet peeve is when people write blog posts about grammar pet peeves. Just let me write and express myself however I want. HAHAHA, SEE WHAT I DID THERE, I’M FUNNY!” gets a snide look from me and a smart alec response.)
Now it’s your turn, add to the list and let’s air some dirty laundry.