My kids chuckled when I brought this book into the house. Who wouldn’t? The smart remarks flew like germs in a sneeze. All I could do was stand there and take it. I couldn’t deny their claims: It was a great dictionary for me, one that would help with editing my stories.
The Dimwit’s Dictionary—5,000 overused words and phrases and alternatives to them by Robert Hartwell Fiske is a very interesting book and one I proudly display in the reference section of my bookshelf. I’ve had it since 2008 (Second Edition) and have used it many times.
This is the perfect book for finding and eliminating common phrases from your work. For example: When William received the news, he raced around the grocery store like a chicken with its head cut off.
You can look up that common phrase and see what it’s called. In this case (like a) chicken with its head cut off is referred to as an insipid simile. You’ll also find words to replace the phrase: agitated, crazed, demented, deranged, frantic…
It’s your job to work a replacement word into the sentence.
When William received the news, he raced around the grocery store frantically.
When William received the news, he raced around the grocery store in a demented state.
There’s a section in the front of the book that provides an overall view of the problems that might creep into a writer’s work. For example, the Quack Equation is explained as the “sort of simplicity much favored by mountebanks and pretenders, by businesspeople and politicians: a deal is a deal; a politician is a politician; a promise is a promise; a rule is a rule; bald is beautiful; bigger is better; enough is enough”…you get the idea.
I’ve often referred to the wretched redundancies to weed out the phrases that have become ingrained in my brain over the centuries, ones I’ve taken for granted are correct and can be thrown into a story without further thought:
- advance planning
- dead body (standard knowledge is that if it’s a body, it’s dead)
- free gift (if it’s not free, it’s not a gift, so if it’s a gift, it must be free)
- the single best (obviously there can only be one best, so of course it’s singular)
In the case of wretched redundancies, more is not better.
I had but one choice to make in spite of the fact that two roads lay before me.
This can be rewritten as: I had but one choice to make though two roads lay before me.
If your goal is to eliminate clichés and common phrases, then this is a great dictionary to choose. If your goal is to reduce the word count of your manuscript, then this is still a great dictionary to choose.
If you want recycled dialogue for a character who speaks using terms such as “it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it” and “mad as a wet hen”, then this is a great dictionary to discover them.
If you want to make sure you are using a cliché or common phrase correctly, then this is a great dictionary to confirm them: much ado about nothing.
Diane Tibert is a writer, columnist, editor and publisher. Need an editor or someone to format your eBook or novel for CreateSpace? Check out her prices here.