Make Your Editor Cry: A List of Gluey Sticky Words
A List of Gluey Sticky Words
“Omit needless words” — William Strunk, The Elements of Style
Strunk & White’s advice is simple. Find words with no purpose and delete them.
I really don’t care for flying in airplanes all that much so I came in on the train because of that.
This sentence is loaded with “glue” words. Revising it makes it less “sticky.”
I hate flying so I took the train instead.
This article isn’t about mistakes, errors, or incorrect usage. It is about style improvement and tightening your writing overall. There has been a lot of recent attention on “sticky” sentences. The credit goes to Richard Wydick who popularized the idea in Plain English for Lawyers, now in it’s fifth edition. The idea is not to completely eliminate glue words but to end up with an overall “sticky” index of lower than 45%.
My take? The sticky index should only really apply to the narrative text. Dialogue should remain unique and organic to the characters, and some characters are going to speak in a sticky manner. Keeping that in mind, here are some guidelines and a big fat word list to hopefully help you tighten up the narrative text.
There are different kinds of glue words like Useless modifiers, “Try replacing” words, Deadweight words, Non-starter words, Weak Descriptors, Down with Up words, Weak Introspection words, Pet Quirk words, and Glue words. Below is a description of each with some examples and a long list of glue words.
Useless modifiers: Revise to eliminate these by using stronger verbs or adjectives.
She ran very quickly.
She ran really quickly.
Try replacing: A “darling” or pedantic sounding word. Overuse may lead to repetitive sounding narrative, or come off as condescending, and pull the reader from the story. Try replacing with a different word.
Deadweight words: These words usually don’t add information to a sentence. Try removing them. If a sentence still makes sense after deleting the word, then you should probably leave it deleted.
Non-starters: Unless they indicate an interruption to the action, these words are nearly always unnecessary. Usually, you should delete these words.
Weak Descriptors: These words are usually unnecessary and actually weaken the sentence by injecting vagueness.
This pizza is rather bad.
This pizza is somewhat bad.
The girls went to the forest to collect some pine cones.
This pizza is bad.
The girls went to the forest to collect pine cones.
Down with Up: The words “up” and “down” are almost always unnecessary.
I sat down on the couch.
I met up with my friends.
I sat on the couch.
I met with my friends.
Weak Introspection: When you use any of these words in their sense of either internal thoughts or emotions, you pull readers from the introspection POV.
I wondered if Jill was the killer.
She felt sad the entire way home.
Was Jill the killer?
Sadness grew with every mile until unwanted tears slipped out as she walked through her front door.
Pet Quirk: Does your character do this too often? If your male protagonist grins before every line of dialogue or your heroine flips her hair too often, the reader will get pulled out of the story.
Glue Word: These words (or phrases) should be examined to see if you can reword the sentence to eliminate them.
In regards to tomorrow’s event, the main focus should be on keeping all participants fully engaged and feeling as though they are valued customers.
Boris walked over into the second-hand car lot in order to see if there was a car he could buy for getting himself to his new job.
At tomorrow’s event, we should concentrate on making our customers feel valued.
Boris checked the used car lot for a car he could afford to commute to work.
|A||(Glue word)||Absolutely||(Deadweight word)|
|About||(Glue word)||Actually||(Deadweight word)|
|An||(Glue word)||Basically||(Deadweight word)|
|And||(Glue word)||Certainly||(Deadweight word)|
|as though||(Glue word)||Completely||(Deadweight word)|
|Asked||(Glue word)||Definitely||(Deadweight word)|
|Be||(Glue word)||Just||(Deadweight word)|
|But||(Glue word)||Literally||(Deadweight word)|
|By||(Glue word)||Probably||(Deadweight word)|
|Every||(Glue word)||That||(Deadweight word)|
|For||(Glue word)||Totally||(Deadweight word)|
|From||(Glue word)||Virtually||(Deadweight word)|
|Get||(Glue word)||Down||(Down with up)|
|getting herself to||(Glue word)||Up||(Down with up)|
|getting himself to||(Glue word)||Began||(Non-starter)|
|In||(Glue word)||Chuckled||(Pet quirk)|
|in order to||(Glue word)||Flipped her hair||(Pet quirk)|
|in regards to||(Glue word)||Grinned||(Pet quirk)|
|Is||(Glue word)||Laughed||(Pet quirk)|
|It||(Glue word)||Nodded||(Pet quirk)|
|Just||(Glue word)||Raised an eyebrow||(Pet quirk)|
|Like||(Glue word)||Shrugged||(Pet quirk)|
|main||(Glue word)||Smiled||(Pet quirk)|
|Make||(Glue word)||Smirked||(Pet quirk)|
|Much||(Glue word)||Pusillanimous||(Try replacing with “afraid” or “timid”)|
|New||(Glue word)||Then||(Try replacing with “and”)|
|Of||(Glue word)||Effervescent||(Try replacing with “bubbly”)|
|On||(Glue word)||Penultimate||(Try replacing with “next to last”)|
|over into||(Glue word)||Diminutive||(Try replacing with “small”)|
|Said||(Glue word)||Fortnight||(Try replacing with “two-weeks”)|
|Should||(Glue word)||Really||(Useless modifier)|
|So||(Glue word)||Very||(Useless modifier)|
|Some||(Glue word)||Quite||(Weak descriptor)|
|Than||(Glue word)||Rather||(Weak descriptor)|
|That||(Glue word)||Some||(Weak descriptor)|
|The||(Glue word)||Somehow||(Weak descriptor)|
|There||(Glue word)||Somewhat||(Weak descriptor)|
|Think||(Glue word)||Feel||(Weak introspection)|
|This||(Glue word)||Felt||(Weak introspection)|
|To||(Glue word)||Ponder||(Weak introspection)|
|To there||(Glue word)||Realize||(Weak introspection)|
|Was||(Glue word)||Think||(Weak introspection)|
|What||(Glue word)||Thought||(Weak introspection)|
|Will||(Glue word)||Understand||(Weak introspection)|
|With||(Glue word)||Wonder||(Weak introspection)|
Gregg Bridgeman is the Editor-in-Chief at Olivia Kimbrell Press. He is husband to best-selling Christian author Hallee Bridgeman and parent to three. He continues to proudly serve in the US Armed Forces and has done so in either an active or reserve capacity for more than twenty years as an airborne and air assault qualified paratrooper, earning a Bronze Star for his service. Most importantly, he was ordained in October of 2001 after surrendering his life to Christ decades earlier.