I have two reasons for watching as many figure skating competitions as I can. One is to get to know the skaters. The other is to spot a potential Paul Wylie or Dorothy Hamill.
Neither goal has been particularly successful. I have trouble telling all those Russian and Japanese skaters apart. And I’m still waiting to see a male skater like Paul Wylie or a female like Dorothy Hamill.
Dorothy Hamill is a particular mystery. Why has no one been able to figure out – and replicate – her magic? Is the problem that today’s emphasis on jumps and tricks get in the way of artistry?
Maybe not. I spent Sunday afternoon watching Skate America for three hours. The competition was just wrapping up, and the last skater took the ice – a Japanese teenager who just moved up from the junior level. I have watched so much figure skating that I can tell within three or four seconds whether the person on the ice is my kind of skater.
Oh, my. Kaori Sakamoto just floats on the ice. She came in second, beating the spectacular Evgenia Medvedeva, who is wonderful but doesn’t have that Hamill magic. (I will, I will learn those names.)
By now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing. Sunday’s competition was a long one, and I saw – umpteen times – the same commercial for Homelight realty referral service. That meant that I heard this sentence endlessly repeated:
Homelight ranks over one million agents based on their actual track record.
Today I am asking you to put actual on your do-not-use word list. While you’re at it, put actually there too. (That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to use these words. Geez – I just used actual on Quora five minutes ago! It means they have to convince you that they add something useful to a sentence.)
Here’s a little trick for finding (and eliminating) cutesy words that don’t enhance your writing. Ask if the word changes the meaning of the sentence.
Let’s try it:
Her actual track record is excellent.
Her track record is excellent.
Actually, I like the pink sneakers better.
I like the pink sneakers better.
Thanks! I feel better now that I got that off my chest.