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Wilf Popoff

Wasted Words: Considering the Case for Verbosity

Currently contemplating a vacation?
Currently contemplating a vacation?
Currently contemplating a vacation?

Is it necessary to waste a word or two to command attention? Are people apt to disregard phrases not couched in officialese?

I shudder at the very notion, but former co-worker Cam Fuller, who fulminates against misusage as The Word Nerd, got me thinking. A recent lecture reveals he is currently contemplating a vacation. After pondering the need for currently, he deletes it to discover “a perfectly good sentence.” (Imagine what would become of editors if all writers did that!)

The Word Nerd concludes currently is “out of control,” having found 128 instances in one week’s news reports. He then leaps from enumerating to analyzing and attributes the word’s popularity to making “everything seem more official, more puffed up and important.” So there’s method to this madness after all.

Hardly justification, but it’s possibly an explanation for the proliferation of the word. I began to recall comparable examples:

“Travellers must have a valid passport if they expect to get off the ground.” I’ve never understood the point of carrying an invalid passport, but the superfluous adjective does bestow an official air. Similarly, traffic rules seem to wield more authority when motorists are warned to “come to a full stop” and “drive with due care and attention.”

Projects are no longer simply completed; we puff them up with the adverb successfully: “She successfully completed the requirements for her master’s,” “The publisher has successfully launched its fall marketing campaign.”

Athletes set records when they break them. It’s automatic. The results of their efforts supersede what used to be the best and become the record. The phrase new record is a tautology. Perhaps sports commentators cannot grasp this concept or they find record by itself too mundane, but they invariably use the tautology.

My gas bill is irritating but not always for the sum due. It lists two items as Federal GST. Likely the customer already knows that GST is a federal tax, so the adjective is redundant. But for those customers who don’t know, all the word serves to do is unhelpfully point a snarky finger at the government. Perhaps just as bad, other vendors go for GST tax.

The Word Nerd’s explanation may inspire tolerance, but I’ll never get used to those annoying forms that demand your current age, current address and current marital status. Of course, my age changes every year, so I try to keep it up to date.

Previous «Wasted Words» post: How Language Sometimes Evolves.

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2 Comments on “Wasted Words: Considering the Case for Verbosity”

  • Virginia Durksen


    My clients talk about checking the safety of existing bridges. The imp of the perverse (close personal friend of mine) tempts me to suggest adding «existing» to all existing nouns. Thanks, Wilf. I might add «currently» to the mix, for its uncanny ability to serve nouns and verbs.

  • Paul Buckingham


    Agreed, currently is a great one to watch out for. A word that I’m guilty of trotting out without thinking is just, in the apologetic/defensive sense that attempts to downplay the scale of a request: «I was just wondering whether…,» «I just wanted to make sure that…,» «Could you just confirm when…» It’s only in the past six months that I’ve noticed how terribly often I use it!

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