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Got, but and that – words we love to hate

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By Mary Morel

Three words that many people hate are: got, but and that.

Got

I have never understood why got receives such bad press. I agree you can often use more specific words to replace it:

I got a book out of the library.
I borrowed a book from the library.

But it is a versatile little word because it has so many different meanings.

The Macquarie Dictionary lists 40 different usages, including obtain, fetch, receive, earn, communicate and prepare.

But

I like the word but because it is simple and the alternatives, however and yet, are more formal.

But whether I use it or not, depends on the context. For example, I would not start a sentence with But in a formal document.

That

I have mixed feelings about that.

Often you can delete that without any loss of meaning, but sometimes it adds to the rhythm of a sentence.

Occasionally omitting that can create problems. Read some examples.

Other hated words

The Economist Style Guide (Profile Books, 2010) lists ‘horrible’ words and phrases. Here are a few of them:

  • facilitate
  • governance
  • grow the business
  • guesstimate
  • informed (as in ‘his love of language informed his memos’)
  • likely (meaning ‘probably’, rather than ‘probable’)
  • looking to (intending to)
  • ongoing
  • prestigious
  • proactive
  • rack up (profits etc.)
  • savvy
  • segue
  • showcase
  • source (meaning ‘obtain’)

Learn more

Learn more about words with my online course, Working with Words (just $39).

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