Six Little Words

weak verbs 1019So I was reading Firefox-suggested articles again, and this time it was about words that make the user sound weak. If we are going to believe this article, which I found to be somewhat suspect, my blog is one long series of weaknesses.

As a student and teacher of writing, I have long been aware of the “verb factor”: this is the part of speech upon which you want to lean the most, and action is always stronger than inaction. Even something as pedestrian as “I went to work” benefits from some verb exercise: “I walked to work” is both stronger and more descriptive, even if it’s no longer true for Oz and me.

My late friend Virginia Jones took the verb instruction to heart in her poetry, relying less on the adjectives to do her describing and more on well-muscled verbs. It did, in fact, sharpen her poetry, noticeably so. (I would love to provide you with an example, but I have no idea where any of my poetry group pieces are.)

So not “be” so much as “do,” but that was not the focus of this article I read from something called No, author Judith Humphrey doesn’t want you to sound weak at work, and she says these six verbs do just that: think, need, want, guess, hope and suppose.

Which means I am doomed, not just at work, but definitely in this blog, where all I do is think, guess, hope and suppose. All of it underpinned by the notion that I want you to like what I post. And maybe I come across as needy while I think, guess, hope and suppose my way across the blogosphere.

While Ms. Humphrey makes her case for each word, I find that she undercuts her own reasoning, so I’m not sure I buy into her List o’ Weakness.”Think,” she tells me, “doesn’t sound definitive.” I’d think she was right about that, but two words later, while attacking “want,” she says it’s soooo much better not to “want” a raise. Instead, you should “believe my pay and performance make a strong case for a raise.”

Why is it okay to “believe” but not to “think”? That might be the opiate of the masses right there, believing rather than thinking. And isn’t “thinking” tantamount to existence? I think, therefore I am? I want to find her advice stimulating, but I just don’t.

What I think, and this is admittedly just a guess or supposition, is that Ms. Humphrey was casting about for something to talk about in her space, blog or magazine or e-zine or whatever it is that GetPocket might be, a space she needed to fill. Perhaps she even wanted to be perceived as wise, so she went through my blog and pulled out the most overused verbs she could find.

Personally, I think she would have been better off to take me to task for my overuse of conjunctions. As I attempt to edit myself each day, I eliminate hordes of “and, buts, sos, thens” — and still they proliferate. I guess this doesn’t strengthen my writing. But still I fall back on them. Conjunction Junction, what is your function?

So my writing could be better. I always want to improve, even if this makes me sound weak. I hope that writing a little bit nearly every day is exercising some muscles that were extremely flabby, although I suppose that’s just conjecture on my part.

I need to stop here, because if I haven’t made my point by now I’m never going to. My point being that Ms. Humphrey’s word list was rather a waste of my reading time, useful more as a blog topic than for strengthening one’s position at work. I guess it’s because most of the world works this way, but I always find all of these “how to be better at your job” articles focused on very large companies where everyone sits in little cubicles.

Trying to filter one’s work speech to rid oneself of basics such as think, need, hope, suppose, guess and want would be a job in and of itself. Yes, I’m sure you can sound a bit insecure and easy to run roughshod over if you “think” everything rather than “know” it, but you’re also not going to come across as the office know-it-all, barely tolerated, never mind liked.

I for one would hope that Ms. Humphrey is not one of those office know-it-alls, just someone who had exhausted the number of times she could talk about weak “being” verbs (is, are  — although there seems to be power in “Be still and know that I am“) and felt she should branch out. But when “think” is bad but “believe” suggests conviction, you’ve bungled your assignment for the day. I say that with all the conviction and belief I can muster.

Today is Halloween, where I suppose we will be inundated at work by costumed children wanting treats (we give out toys, not candy, to make dentists and parents proud of us). I guess the kids are okay with it too; at least, I like to think so. I bought a lot of toys I need for this to work, and I hope the kids like them.

Does that all make me sound weak?

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