Figure Skating

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.

Japanese figure skater Kaori Sakamoto

           Kaori Sakamoto


4 thoughts on “Figure Skating

  1. Avatarhomelightcontent

    Hi Jean,

    Matt Proctor here, Head of Content for HomeLight. I wrote the ad you’re critiquing.

    First: I love what you’re doing. As someone who hires writers and works with them all day, I think blogs like these and teachers like you are crucial.

    I’d like to push back a little on the use of the word “actual” here though, if I may. I agree with your recommendation: writers should think critically about using that word before they place it, it should add value to the sentence.

    That’s what I tried to do here.

    For HomeLight, our product is different than other products that provide agent recommendations because we look objectively at the agent’s performance data and how it compares with the agents in their market. Other businesses offer agent recommendations but do so based on customer reviews or advertising spend by the agents.

    So, I chose to use the word “actual” in the phrase to signal this differentiator without explicitly saying it. At least, that was the thought behind the copy.

    Anyway, love the blog! If you know any good writers who’d like to write for our Seller Resource Center ( please send them my way!

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    Matt, you are charming – and a terrific writer! Thanks for the explanation. I will recommend HomeLight to my writer friends.
    I would suggest using “accurate” or “precise” or “up-to-date” instead of “actual.” Better yet – how about a word you used yourself: “objective”?
    Warmly, Jean

Leave a Reply