Weasel Words You Should Always Watch Out For

There are all kinds of words that seem to pop up in your story while you’re writing the first draft. They can make your writing sloppy, cause confusion, and take up space (sometimes all at once!). Some call them “filler words,” others “weasel words,” or any other variation of the term. I think we can all agree, though, that these words must be destroyed. But how do you identify them easily?

Weasel

Photo by Steven Allain

To figure out if a word is a weasel word, you should first find out which words you use the most. Read through something you’ve written recently—whether it be a blog post, poem, or an e-mail—and write down any words you find yourself using too frequently. My list includes:

  • Just
  • That
  • Suddenly
  • Very
  • Every
  • Some
  • Most
  • But

How do you keep yourself from using these words? It’s pretty much unavoidable in the first draft. After all, you’re so focused on getting the words onto the page that you don’t notice which words you’re using. Once you start to revise, though, you should immediately start a search-and-destroy process to get rid of these weasels.

How to Quickly Remove Filler Words from Your Writing

A simple Ctrl + F command will take care of finding the words, but once you find them, you have to decide if you’re going to get rid of them. There are three questions you should ask yourself before getting rid of a weasel word.

1. Will my sentence make sense without it?

This is something you have to watch out for. If you delete every weasel word you find, you might end up with more confusion than before when the weasel word was still there! Say the sentence out loud, this time without the weasel word, and see if it has the same meaning. If it doesn’t, goodbye, weasel word. If it does, ask yourself this:

2. Does it sound natural?

Sometimes if a weasel word is used within dialogue, it should stay. Ask yourself if the sentence would sound weird or out of character if you took it out. Weasel words are usually acceptable if a specific character is using them. Usually.

3. Do I need it?

Ultimately, you have to decide if this word is necessary. Stop and think about it for a little while. Do you need this word? Is it helping to improve your writing? Is it harming your writing? Go with whatever is best for your story.

How about you? What are some of your worst weasel words?

PRACTICE

What are your weasel words? Write for fifteen minutes about a weasel. Once you’ve finished, read over what you’ve written and write down your list of weasel words. Feel free to share the list and/or the story in the comments. Have fun!

About The Magic Violinist

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).

Join the Community!

If this post helped you improve at the craft, consider subscribing. It’s fast, free, and you’ll make our day:

You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts.

  • http://fantasy-schmantasy.blogspot.com Susan Chambers

    I catch myself overusing certain filler words all the time and have to keep an eye out for them while editing. “Suddenly” is BY FAR my worst.

    • Parsinegar

      That’s true to me, too, Susan. Maybe things really do not happen at all of a ‘sudden’ as I might think. There’s a process behind actions.

      • http://fantasy-schmantasy.blogspot.com Susan Chambers

        This is so poignant — I’m going to remember this as I edit and rewrite. I bet that “suddenly” is masking a lot of opportunity to do more show-y writing.

    • themagicviolinist

      Using “suddenly” is a hard habit to break! It’s taken me a long time to stop myself from sneaking it in, though it does pop up a lot more than I’d like it to.

  • Dragons’ Geas

    Mine include:
    surely
    although
    however
    Strangely, I have paragraph weasels. They can be any word or phrase and then I will notice that word/phrase like six times in the same paragraph. This usually indicates a need to combine sentences.

  • http://www.robynlarue.com Robyn LaRue

    the work I ruthlessly cut is “that” and then have to defend my position to my line editor. In about 1 of 10 cases I have to put it back in, but I complain the whole time, lol.

    • Janey Egerton

      What’s wrong with “that”? Can you give an example, please?

      • http://www.robynlarue.com Robyn LaRue

        John picked up the chair so that he could move it out of the way. The sentence is wordy and if I eliminate “that” alone I think it reads better, but “that” is a sign that reworking the whole sentence is better. “John moved the chair out of the way.”

        • Janey Egerton

          Thanks. So you were specifically talking about the “so that” construction? Because that as a pronoun is pretty much indispensable, as far as I can see it.

    • themagicviolinist

      Ugh. :P “That” is probably my biggest weasel word. It’s usually the first word I search for in my novels when doing edits.

  • Eliese

    This is exactly what I have been going through lately. Just yesterday I made my own list even. This is helpful. Thanks!

  • catmorrell

    I have always felt that cuss words are weasel words. Using them is “too easy”. It takes brains to make impact without cussing. So weasel words for me include “have, always, too….” plus the usual ones. Small children tend to use “them, there, those” exclusively.

    • Janey Egerton

      Yes, but real people DO curse. I think one has to have the guts and have her characters do it, and do it properly , if it fits the character. Ever watched Family Guy’s Freaking FCC clip? Do you know any grown-ups who say “I have to take a tinkle”? That’s what I thought. I’m thinking of some TV programmes aimed at an adult audience in which an adult character doesn’t tell another that they had sex. No, they have to go through a ridiculous ritual dance composed of “We did…”, “What?”, “You know…”, “What?”, “You know!”, “Oh, that!”, pre-recorded laughing. We must not let literature turn into that! I, personally, hate the use of euphemisms. Because sooner or later the new “clean” substitute words become as dirty as the ones they substituted in the first place once everybody knows what they mean. It’s a process that destroys our beautiful words and makes our language poorer. (I will never forgive them — whoever they are — for turning gay from happy into basically anything that’s bad.)

      • catmorrell

        I was referring to narrative not dialog. I still think swearing is brainless clutter but it definitely has it’s place with certain characters and stories.

    • themagicviolinist

      I agree with you about swear words. If you use them excessively, they lose their power. But using them sparingly throughout your novel really emphasizes the need for the word. Then again, some books need them. Have you ever read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell? That’s one book that wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful without those words.

      • catmorrell

        Thanks for responding. I have not read Eleanor & Park. If the cussing, sex, or other weasel words and actions are important to the story and not gratuitous,, I can live with them. But so often they are thrown in without any thought by the author, just because it seems like the thing to do.That is my objection.

  • Michael Cairns

    Hi
    I’ve never heard them described as weasel words, but the description fits.
    I tend to have weasel descriptors. My characters do far too much shrugging and shaking their heads!
    ‘That’ is a classic, as is ‘just’. ‘Almost’ is also far too common.
    cheers
    Mike

    • themagicviolinist

      Yes, yes, yes! My characters are often rolling their eyes, biting their lips, etc.

  • Julia W.

    Then! Keeps popping up without my noticing. Then I delete it. See?

    • themagicviolinist

      Ha ha! :)

  • http://jknightsworld.wordpress.com/ Jevon Knights

    Mine are but, so, and then

    • themagicviolinist

      Ooh, those are tricky ones!

  • http://blog.fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    One of my filler words is “sigh”. I was reading over a rough draft the other day and realized that my characters were sighing WAY too much. :D

    • themagicviolinist

      You and me both. ;) Sometimes descriptors like that are even trickier to get rid of!

  • Janey Egerton

    My top-1 weasel is “And then, …” I know I use it too often, but I’m ridiculously afraid of temporal gaps.

    • themagicviolinist

      Hmm. Maybe you could substitute some of those “and then”s for “suddenly”s to give yourself some variation. Then you can ease your way out of the habit.

      • Janey Egerton

        Thank you for the hint, MV, but suddenly is one of my old weasels. Until I suddenly realised that not every plot turn has to happen suddenly (which is consistent with real life). Now I avoid it like the plague!

  • Eliese

    People think I am a sneaky, untrustworthy creature. Stupid stereotypes. Why couldn’t I have been born an intelligent owl searching the nights sky for its dinner, or a majestic horse galloping across the land, or better yet, a roaring lion ruling over its kingdom. Instead I am a weasel.

    I scurry along the dirt in the dark in search of my morning meal, and contemplate my unfair destiny. I think that I am a good animal, and pretty cute too. I have a thin neck and body, silky brown hair, beautiful sharp claws, and perfect flat head. I am the best underdog. I may be small, but species larger than I am have learned to avoid me.

    My breakfast is close by. I hear the clucking of the dumb feathered birds stuffed inside the wooden house. It is a simple task to weasel my way inside, but before I can attempt my egg thievery I am caught by the farmers wife.

    “Get out of hear you disgusting rodent.” She screams and chases me in the moonlight. I outrun her with ease. The only problem is I must now find another source of nutrition, but tonight is my lucky night. The scent of a fuzzy victim drifts in the breeze over to me. This should be challenging and fun.

    He is searching through the garden for vegetables while I stalk him. He notices me, and the chase is on. He jumps away but is no match for my speed. I attack the soft fur around his neck and long ears over and over again as he squeals. My mouth is small so it is slow work but eventually, he stops squirming. Victory over the large animal is mine. Screw the lion; I am an incredible little predator.

    **Three of my most used weasel words are just, that, and as.

    • http://www.toodlesbookclub.blogspot.com Kym Bolton

      I like the alliteration in stupid sterotypes

      • Eliese

        Thanks Kym

    • Candace

      I really enjoyed your story. I am a sucker for ‘that’ as well!

      • Eliese

        Thanks Candace.

  • Sammi

    “As” and “while,” which subs for “as” are good ones to avoid, too. They trivialize the action and weaken the sentence construction.

    • themagicviolinist

      Agreed!

  • http://heartofwilds.wordpress.com Martha

    However is my major infraction, which is weird because I don’t say it in everyday conversation. However, it fits perfectly into just about everything I write. Yikes!

    • themagicviolinist

      Ha ha, that is strange. “However” is an easy word to get rid of, though. I’ll bet you 90% of the time you don’t need it in your sentence.

    • Janey Egerton

      Oh that happens to me, too! After ten years of formal writing (electronics and mathematics articles, PhD thesis, grant proposals, etc), I find myself dumping lots of howevers, hences, thuses and whatnot on my prose. The day I find out one of my rather uneducated characters has started to “say” e.g. or i.e., I’ll quit! ;-)

  • Candace

    I just had a practice (better late than never!) and I also have ‘but’ and ‘then’ popping up more than they should. ‘Perhaps’ features a lot in my writing in general as well.

    I noticed ‘was’ sneak in quite a bit, as did ‘seemed’. I think those two had more to do with my writing style for the piece though, but still, it’s something to watch for! I managed to use this activity to develop one of my short stories I was really struggling with. A true win-win.
    ***
    I don’t even know what a weasel is, really, but he seemed weasel-like. His hair was oily,
    his skin bristly and unshaven. He was loitering in the far right corner of the lobby, his back
    slightly hunched, his hands in his pockets. He seemed sly, untrustworthy and I didn’t like being in his sights. Was he waiting for someone? At first glance it would appear so, but he didn’t seem to be searching the room for anyone. It was as though the person he was looking for was right in front of him. And that it was me!

    I wanted to run but something about the whole situation made me feel like I was overreacting. We were in a different city, a place I hadn’t been for over 11 years. Since Molly was born, since Clare died, since the lies started. Maybe it was just my guilty
    conscience. I was becoming more paranoid now that Molly was getting older and asking more questions. Would she find out our secret before we had the chance to offer our honesty? Was that what the weasel-like man was here for? I wondered if he had connections with David. The thought frightened me. Clare’s dying wish had been to keep Molly away from him. It was part of the reason we fled to America, why I pretended she was my daughter. There were so many secrets and lies between us.

    I took Molly’s hand. She hadn’t seemed to notice a single thing, she was too busy looking up, looking around. It must so often be the case when an 11 year old winds up in a new place; curiosity kicks common sense out the door. The man shifted his gaze to us and I saw his dark, weasel-like eyes penetrating the air around us. If he was trying to be discreet it wasn’t working. Perhaps he wanted to be seen. Is that what weasels did? Did they lie in wait, like a predator, waiting for the moment to act? The line moved forward and I was forced to take my eyes off him for a moment. I took several steps but once I returned my gaze he was gone.

    • Eliese

      Nice way to use the word weasel. Now I want to know the secrets too. I liked the description of a child looking around the room.

    • themagicviolinist

      I loved that you made the weasel a man instead of an animal! :) I’m glad the practice helped you with your short story!

  • Eliese

    Thanks!! :D

  • Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [03/24/14]()

  • Pingback: Writer's Relief Links Roundup, April 2014 - Writer's Relief, Inc.()

  • Pingback: SEO and content writing tips: Week ending March 25, 2014 » SEO Copywriting()

  • Pingback: Top 6 Weasel Words | Saturday Six | Commenteri | Commenteri()