Replace These Words in Your Writing

Screenshot: Act III Communications

Writing is hard, and weird, and in the scheme of human existence pretty new. We’ve been talking for maybe half a million years, writing for just about 5,000. So sometimes we write stuff that we’d never say aloud. We use a complicated or “smart-sounding” word when a simpler word would work better. New York Times editor Dan Saltzstein lists some great examples on Twitter. They pop up in news media, but also in “business speak.” If you’re trying to write effectively, watch out for these:

Twitter users suggest many more:

  • Opens > bows (@taffyakner)
  • Opens > debuts (@lhsaria)
  • Die > perish (@danfalk)
  • Killed > slain (@TheAliciaKraft)
  • Let > enable (@VictoriaMia)
  • Many > myriad (@brookehauser)
  • Lessons > learnings (@mathowie)
  • A question > an ask (@mathowie)
  • Live > reside (@EmilyRNunn)
  • Tweeted > took to Twitter (@KOD)
  • Write > author (@CvlKulow)
  • Write > pen (@SteveKandell)
  • Sign > ink (@danloving)
  • Story > narrative (@bedhatuser)
  • Planned > preplanned (@bigdaddydoug56)
  • Before > prior to (@LindaIHiggins)

  • After > subsequent to (@LindaIHiggins)
  • Now > at this point in time (@dopre)
  • How > the ways in which (@zumhagenyekple)
  • Scheduled > slated (@NeilMathur)
  • Snow > the white stuff (@NBCLAamy)
  • Use > leverage (@traceylindeman)
  • Affect > impact (@roboso)
  • Next > going forward (@robertdfield)
  • Encourage > incentivize (@JVSylvester)
  • Eat > tuck into (@amandafortini)
  • Drink > quaff (@ianfreeman)
  • Shot > gunned down (@RSDavis5)
  • Fire > blaze (@AdamButler__)
  • Large > sprawling (@ronlieber)
  • Person > individual (@AmyZQuinn)
  • Money > funds (@AmyZQuinn)
  • Gives > gifts (@jby789)
  • Drink > libation (@lilabattis)
  • Cocktail > tipple (@dgritzer)
  • Food > fare (@daniellemattoon)
  • Put on > donned (@daniellemattoon)
  • Custom > bespoke (@SusanOrr)
  • Hair > tresses (@HuffinesJayna)
  • Dress > frock (@vonverena)
  • Pregnant > anything with “baby bump” (@dreegreene)
  • Criticized > slammed (@CarolineHaubold)
  • Directed > helmed (@johndeedesign)
  • Impressive > epic (@clairenelson)
  • Road > roadway (@SeanMoodyKSL)
  • Has > boasts (@Andy_Murdock)
  • Help > facilitate (@shellbomber)
  • On > upon (@Tellythecairn)

We’d like to add:

  • Name > dub
  • Turn > render
  • Big > massive
  • Maybe > perhaps

These aren’t rules, of course; they’re just suggestions, language is fluid, yadda yadda. Almost all the “lesser” words above have good uses. Save them for those uses. To leverage something is specifically to “use it to its maximum advantage.” Something sprawling is “spreading out over a large area in an untidy or irregular way.” Suits are bespoke, and medieval knights get slain. Okay, you’ve been waiting to add your own—go for it.

About the author

Nick Douglas

Staff Writer, Lifehacker | Nick has written for Gawker, the Awl, the Toast, the Daily Dot, Urlesque, and the web series "Jaywalk Cop." He currently runs the horror-comedy podcast "Roommate From Hell."

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