Mark Twain’s Tip for Dazzling Writing

Twain Lightning Bug quote - Kim Schlossberg Designs

Mark Twain famously said that “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

One sure sign that we’re using the “almost right word” is when we feel the need to use helper words that either amplify or minimize the word they are modifying. Adverbs and adjectives such as very, really, extremely, almost, or nearly are indicators that the words following them are not quite right. Here are some examples of ways to use more precise words to strengthen your language:

Instead of:
really bright
very scared
almost never

Try this:
dazzling, luminous
terrified, horrified
rarely, seldom

By letting go of the amplifier or minimizer word, writers have the opportunity to select a stronger word that more clearly and elegantly communicates their thoughts. The suggested words in the right column are not only stronger, they also bring in extra nuance and connotations that will make your writing more interesting.

Or, if all else fails – you can follow another bit of Mark Twain advice:
“Substitute ‘damn‘ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”


Kim Schlossberg
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Kim Schlossberg created Kim Schlossberg Designs to help businesses and non-profits refine their messages and get them out to the right audience, in a clear, consistent, and integrated way. She provides strategic planning, execution and coordination of marketing, branding, and design by developing a deep understanding of clients’ businesses and their goals, and serves as a trusted advisor to help them grow their businesses and brand. Kim speaks to business and non-profit groups about marketing and related topics, and publishes a well-received (but slightly irregular) newsletter.

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