Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

The Craft of Writing

Weasel words

It seems hard on the poor little weasel, which is quite cute, you will agree.

I suppose it is just barely possible that a writer will suddenly discover that every single “very” should be removed from his or her writing, but most of them, or at least some, might actually be playing a useful role in the text.

Okay, did I get every single “weasel word” in the above sentence? Here they are:

Just
That
Suddenly
Very
Every
Some
Most
But

Did any of them bother any of you in the above sentence? I am actually not very bothered by any of these words, though that might suddenly change if I find myself just really overusing one or another of them, I suppose.

I would include “really” and “actually” and “quite” in this list, btw. But I would exclude “but.”

My favorite post about this topic was Gary Corbey’s explanation of how he got autocorrect to change “just” to “NO! NO! NO!” Now that is hilarious. Also, it would sure train you to quit using the word “just” in your writing.

Does “sure” count as another little weasel?

I will admit that I do sometimes find it necessary to go through and remove about half my “very’s”. But one thing I appreciate about the “weasel word” post linked above is this:

“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.”

Because, yes. In the sequel to BLACK DOG, one character says “just” fairly often — I hope not often enough to annoy readers — but I tried to make sure it was him and not everyone.

And yes, this is something to think about after completing and even polishing a draft. I would not suggest derailing your writing efforts by worrying about it during the actual writing process.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

6 Comments Weasel words

  1. elaine t

    I tend to notice ‘rather’ especially in narrative, not so much in dialog. In narrative, unless it’s in a narrator’s voice, I often find myself wondering why the author used it. Sometimes it is necessary, a lot of the time it doesn’t seem to add anything except 2 syllables. Sometimes the sentence rhythm will require it, but not often, unless the author is a prose stylist on the McKillip level, which almost none are.

  2. Diana

    Weasels are fearsome beasts (or perhaps you’d rather I say very fearsome?). Even the least weasel is capable of inflicting significant damage and is difficult to kill. Not sure how that impacts writing or books, but just suddenly opening that very can of mammalogist whoop-arse that some, or perhaps most, of us crave letting loose on every occasion.

    Weasel power!

  3. Rachel

    Very extremely fearsome! I always admire least weasels, even if I sometimes have trouble remembering whether it’s least weasels or short-tailed weasels that are ermine. To add to the mammal trivia on display: They both turn white, but only short-tailed weasels reliably have the black tip on their tail.

  4. Rachel

    I should make a list of “words to be suspicious of” for my own writing. When and if I do, “rather will be on it.”

  5. Diana

    Pretty sure the short tails are ermine (also called stoats). Least weasels, IMHO, have a short critter complex and take fierceness to the extreme as a result. I have never met one who hesitated to bite you (or tell you something you don’t know about yourself). Perhaps instead of referring to their size as I was told the term least actually refers to the likelihood that they would try to kill you regardless of the body size difference.

  6. Rachel

    I feel weasel deprived now, as I’ve never actually met a least weasel in person. But I will remember what you say, and keep my hands to myself if I do meet one.

Leave A Comment