June 10, 2020–

“Our diversity is our strength”

“We are all in this together”

“Due to an abundance of caution”

“Thoughts and prayers”

How many empty phrases can one language tolerate?

Our minds are a file cabinet of sayings. When a certain situation arises, we unconsciously flip the rolodex to an appropriate passage and dutifully spit it out. It makes us feel wise and kind. But it is really a lack of thought rather than a surfeit of wisdom.

The worst offenders often come from government and higher education, two areas I am most familiar with.

I’ve always noticed that in academia a student is rewarded for writing more and more about less and less. While in pop culture, the trend pushes towards using the fewest words possible.

Both approaches have failings.

More and more about less and less leads to knowing everything about nothing.

Conciseness on the other hand, leads to emojis.

Or the puzzling comment popping up more frequently: No words.

How do you respond to that? It is criticism devoid of content.

Just received a newsletter from my alma mater. Here are a few of the passages deemed so worthy they were used as pull quotes, those 72-point phrases designed to fill space and serve as graphic elements.

“Many families, friends and partners struggle to find appropriate services and supports for their loved ones.”


“The steps that we take to actively address these issues not only affect us as individuals, but our community as well.”


“Advocating for accessible and quality care in our state is a way of saying this is what our state and community values.”

Blue is blue.

Those dazzling insights were all in one article. All they told me was there was no need to read the article.

It is education-ese, groups of words that say nothing, but give the impression of wisdom and thoughtfulness.

As I write more, it is easier to tell when a writer is padding the word count, frantically slinging together phrases in pursuit of hitting 750 words.

As a reader, I have little patience for this. You are siphoning my time, and I resent it.

The biggest offender is “the introduction.” This device deserves to be banished to the tire fire of wasted words, to burn in eternity as a beacon of warning for true content creators.

An editor’s rule of thumb is that every story can be improved by throwing out the first sentence, paragraph, or even chapter. I find this to be unfailingly true.

Lately I’ve turned to YouTube for tutorials on such glamorous activities as “replacing the belt in a Whirlpool dryer.” Without fail, the first three minutes of every video is a screed of “Hi! I’m Dick Toolbar. I’m so glad you are here to learn about fixing a dryer. Be sure to like my page and follow my podcasts….” You learn to fast forward to the point where the actual repairs begin, and even then you have to listen to the mandated disclaimers of “be sure to disconnect the wall plug” and “don’t stand in a pool of water barefoot.”

We songwriters are also guilty, with introductions twice as long as the songs. I don’t care why you wrote this song while camping in Big Bend getting over a bad relationship. Let the song tell the story.

On the other end of the spectrum is “the long goodbye.”

One of my favorite podcasts is about words, which makes it frustrating that half of each caller’s time is spent saying good-bye. Here is a typical transcript:

–Thanks for calling in.

–OK, thank you for taking my call.

–Of course. Call back anytime.

–I will. Thanks again.

–Good-bye now.

–Good-bye, thanks.


I’ve chronicled up to 10 back and forth good-byes of a single caller. Just stop! Everyone knows how to say good-bye, and no one finds it entertaining.

Someone asked one of the creators of the TV show Cheers why no one ever paid for their drinks. I love him for saying this–paying for drinks is boring. No one tunes into a show to see Woody make change for Cliff’s bar tab.

I feel the same way about wasted words. No one reads a story to count the words.