WRITING: ELUSIVE TERMS November 25, 2017

WRITING: ELUSIVE TERMS                    November 25, 2017

For speaking and writing, the dictionary defines elusive” as follows:  “eluding one’s clear perception; hard to express or define; skillfully evasive.”


Some words in the English language are elusive.   Such words may seem to add substance or description to our communications, and some can be helpful in verbal situations. In writing, however, they rarely add anything to the cause. In fact, they often interfere with reader comprehension.

Some examples of elusive terms are:  all that, all that much, very, just, rather, somewhat, quite, like, at that point in timeLet’s discuss each of them.


Maybe you’ve noticed that usage of all that ranges from interesting to irritating. In a form of modern slang, some GenXers sometimes say, “She thinks she’s all that.” To the rest of us, what IS “all that“? It seems to mean, for example, that a girl considers herself to be the best, and her attitude shows in her snobbish behavior. In another example, some say, “I didn’t like it all that much,” such as while testing a product in a marketing survey. The listener, though, doesn’t know what “that” is or the speaker’s basis for comparison; as a result, he/she is left to wonder, “How much is that much?” Speakers can prevent such problems by saying simply, “I didn’t like it,” or by adding an explanation: “I didn’t like it well. I like the concept, but I don’t like the taste.” In this last example we have clear usage that anyone can understand.


Very often is used in exaggeratedly in conversations. When people are eager to amplify their description of an event, they may merely take the word from “very” to “v-e-e-e-ry,” with the possible inclusion of a few head nods. If that isn’t sufficient, the speaker is inclined to bring in the big ammo–voluminous vocal inflections, eyeball and head movements, and arm gestures.  That’s the beauty of conversation, especially informal moments; you can say as little or as much as you want.


Just is often substituted for “only” and “simply.”   Again, such usage is okay in informal conversation. But, in writing and formal situations, if you mean “only” or “simply” you should use the correct word so that no misunderstandings will occur.


Some people consider rather,” “somewhat,” and quiteto be high-brow terms. “Rather” and “somewhat” indicate a small degree; “quite” indicates much more. Whereas in conversation you may have a chance to clarify, in writing you will not.


Like has been used in a slang sort of way for decades–to our knowledge, since the 1950s. Here’s an example:  “It was, like, cool, man.”  In such usage, “like” seems to indicate “sort of.”   Again, your friends probably will know what you mean, but your readers will not; slang rarely has a place in written communications, but never in business.


At that point in time“:  If this phrase immediately follows and refers to a certain sentence of explanation, it is acceptable.  If it doesn’t, it leaves the reader asking, “When was that?” [Actually, “at that point” is sufficient; to add “in time” is to be redundant.  Or, simply use “then.”]


Many lessons and bits of advice in this writing/grammar series have been taken from Writestyle’s online campus of courses covering Grammar, Punctuation, Proofreading, and Editing.  If you need help, we’re here for you.





Vickie L. Weaver

Vickie L. Weaver

Owner at Writestyle
Writing has been an important talent and part of my life since I was a child.Professionally, after decades of employment for others, I founded Writestyle in 1996 to provide writing, editing, proofreading, training, and more to clients worldwide (www.writestyle.com).Clients often call my work “magic.”I have written and/or edited for “Coexistence Magazine” (national), for “Ohio Magazine,” and for various newspapers.In addition, I have edited or contributed to the writing of numerous books.Personally, I have written in various genres.I have always composed poetry; as such, I have won awards and publication for some of my poems, and I am compiling a book of my poetry.One of my children’s books is set for publication.With my second husband, family and friends in Ohio, I enjoy music and dance, aid charitable causes, and strive for beauty and harmony in life.
Vickie L. Weaver

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