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Wilf Popoff

WASTED WORDS: Stalking Verbosity

A business man sits at a desk, among other business men, talking into a mic with a sheet of paper in front of him.

A business man sits at a desk, among other business men, talking into a mic with a sheet of paper in front of him.Verbosity is the technical term for Wasted Words and it reflects the ongoing motif of this blog series.

Verbosity noun the fact or quality of using more words than needed; wordiness. (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Not much here to make a writer proud.

I admit to being verbosity-obsessed: while writing I’m terrorized by the possibility I’ll let it sneak into my copy; as an editor I adopt the mindset of a commando on a search and destroy mission; but reading or listening I can only grimace because some unknown colleague has let everyone down.

Why is verbosity commonplace?

Ignorance helps. It might describe the author of the headline, South Korea Successfully Launches Satellite. Although failure in space endeavours is customary I don’t expect to see, Erewhon Unsuccessfully Launches Satellite.

Routinely, runners successfully complete marathons, students successfully finish their studies, and contractors successfully end projects. This adverb does have a grammatical function: one can successfully defend himself against criminal charges or be successfully treated for a disease. Otherwise the word is redundant.

And there are fads. Remember when unions presented lists of grievances? Now these must be laundry lists. Politicians who used to simply select data to support their case can only cherry-pick them nowadays. New hires and other vulnerable souls are at the bottom of the food-chain.

Word fillers are ubiquitous and tenacious. Please, anyone, explain what in order to means. I have to get up early in order to catch my Vancouver flight. I must exercise in order to lose weight.

I can come across a half dozen instances of this empty phrase in a single page. The client never notices that I’ve excised every one because each was written without thought.

Shakespeare never used it. It’s not in the King James Bible, but Today’s New International Version uses it 49 times.

When I began editing in newspapers, discipline came from two sources: good grammar of course dictated concision, and there was the exigency of trying to cram a lot of information into the precious space available.

Verbosity didn’t stand a chance.

Wasted Words is a series of musings on language and usage by editor emeritus Wilf Popoff.

Previous post: A World Without Problems

Next post: Squandering Words on Money

4 Comments on “WASTED WORDS: Stalking Verbosity”

  • Anita Jenkins


    Once when I was teaching an editing class, I said that in my mind to edit basically meant “to cut.” Some of the students started looking in their dictionaries and said, “No, it doesn’t say that.” Still, like Wilf, a whole lot of my editing consisted of crossing out words, phrases and even whole paragraphs.

  • Virginia Durksen


    Thanks for this, Wilf. Adding “successfully” to my elimination list, right after “approximately.” My version of learning to cut copy was working with a graphic designer who insisted I should be able to make things fit on the page she had just designed. Her need for beauty and order became my need for conciseness.

  • Sadly, I can think of quite a few examples of contractors ending projects, but not successfully…

  • Gary


    The phrase “of course” is also bothersome in its redundancy, and yet I find it in this article.

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