Like all married couples, Charlie and I have our moments. I’ve published a couple of college English textbooks, so I feel entitled to claim that I’m always right when we’re talking about writing. (It’s something that happens a lot, because I type all of the columns he writes for our newspaper).
Alas, last week I was wrong.
I hate the word actually. I despise it. Do not say actually in my presence: I will go berserk.
So there I was, typing away while Charlie dictated his latest column, and I heard this:
A chemical that actually repels mosquitoes….
I did not go berserk. I stayed calm. But I stopped typing, and I told him he needed to come up with something better. He’s supposed to know that the overuse of actually drives me nuts.
We spent a few minutes casting around for a better word. Nothing worked. And then I realized that the word we needed was…actually.
He was making the point that some botanical chemicals have an undeserved reputation for repelling insects. But there’s one that actually does the job: citronellal.
I apologized, and he had the grace not to smirk.
So I will admit that there’s a time and place to use actually, just as there’s a time and place to use respective (another word that sets me off).
Please, though, don’t throw those words around to make whatever you’re saying sound more important: “Joey actually turns four next month.” “I actually saved four dollars by switching laundry detergents.” “My grandmother is actually an avid gardener.”
Similarly, please don’t tell me that your guests went to their respective cars after the wedding ceremony. (Whose cars would they have gone to, for heaven’s sake?) And don’t mention that you and your cousin Abigail compared the mileage on your respective cars. (Isn’t it obvious which car you drive?)
I actually cherish my friends, and it’s silly to let an unwise word choice get in the way of our respective friendships. Thanks!