If you listened to the Watergate mess, the phrase “expletive deleted” holds a certain connotation. When President Nixon finally released the tapes from his secretly recording all conversations in the Oval Office, we were shocked at the language he used. As a testimony to the more delicate ears of the 70s, the language he used was not allowed to be broadcast so whenever he swore, “expletive deleted” took the place of his cursing. Well, we should also delete our expletives in everyday writing. Yes, @#$%^&, I’m talking to you!
At this point, you might be saying, “But I don’t swear when I write!” Expletives, in terms of English grammar rules, are phrases like “there is,” “here are,” “there are,” and so on. They weaken your writing. First, of course, they’re passive statements. What is stronger, saying “There is a monster in the corner” or a “A monster lurked in the corner”?
Second, putting your writing in expletive form further separates the action from the narrator, as if he or she were looking at himself instead of describing how he or she felt. Writers aren’t the only ones who do this; people do it when talking, too.
I like watching the TV show “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” Often in that show people seem to think that they have to use more formal language and it comes off sounding stilted. I can’t count the number of times that this happens: people have been stuck in the ocean, on a desert or on a mountain for days without food or water, and they’re finally rescued. So the camera goes to the person in current time as he or she (and it’s usually a “he”) describes how he felt at the moment of rescue. The most common statement is something like this: “There were tears.”
How about “I cried”? “I bawled”? See how much more powerful and accurate that is? “There were tears” sounds like a clinician or scientist documenting a subject of an experiment.
On a related soapbox of mine, this is why I like the King James version of the Bible for John 11:35: “Jesus wept,” commonly referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible. (It wasn’t the shortest verse in the original language, but that’s another discussion for a different day.)
So when you’re writing, keep it tight. Look for forms of the verb “to be,” and see if you can use a stronger verb. And swear off expletives.
For a comparison of versions of John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” see biblegateway.com or wikipedia. Notice how many of the authors of newer versions of the Bible felt that they had to add qualifiers and modifiers to that; notice how they really add nothing but extra words that take away from the power of the emotion.