They’re out there.

With their beady eyes. Their sharp, grasping claws. Their voracious appetite for sucking the vitality from your prose.

Weasel words. And phrases. They’re out there. And worse: they’re IN your manuscript.  

[Cue terrified scream.]

What are weasel words and phrases? The writer, David Michael Kaplan--whose book REVISION: A CREATIVE APPROACH TO WRITING AND REWRITING FICTION is a must-read—coined the term for any word or phrase that serves no real purpose in a sentence, that dilutes its potency or obscures its meaning.

Kaplan points out ones such as “Suddenly,” “Very,” and “Actually,” which are common offenders and which, I agree, hinder—rather than help—one’s writing.

I employ it, too, to include redundant phrases, the kind that make multiple appearances in even polished manuscripts, and which tend to escape notice because, like the adverbs employed above, they’re in such common usage.

Here are my favorite weasels to bag and release from one’s MS:

  • “He sat down.”   Though, of course, one might “sit up and pay attention,” the act of sitting, as it’s generally employed, is executed in a downward direction. So, simply, “He sat.

  • “She stood up.”  The same but in reverse. “She stood.”

  • “He shrugged his shoulders.”  One pretty much has just one option where shrugging is concerned. So, again, “He shrugged.”

  •  “She nodded her head.” And the even more ambitious, “She nodded her head yes.” 

  • Or its negative cousin: “He shook his head no.”

  •  “She nodded.” Or, “He shook his head.”

  • “She turned around.” Technically, “around” suggests a 360-degree turn, which is not usually the case. Better: “She turned.”

None of these phrases, employed once or twice, does egregious harm to a manuscript, but the ongoing use of redundant, unexamined, or flat language, can go beyond dulling the sheen of one’s MS to making it a chore to read.

So, get out your humane traps, and go on a weasel hunt. You’ll be very glad you did.


What are YOUR weasel words, and how good are you at vanquishing them?

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