A few years ago, when I was at a leadership development course, I sat next to a woman who told me about a personal issue she was dealing with. She said she’d recently been to India and had consulted a “guru” about the matter. She told the matter to the guru, and at the end of it the man said just 10 words,
Give up the word “but” and replace it with “and”.
This made me laugh. It was a perfect confirmation of every cliché about the flummoxing nature of a “guru’s” conversation.
When I got home, I thought about it further and decided to check the readiest source of evidence for my own language style which was my personal blog. I reviewed the blog looking for the word “but” and found it everywhere. There was barely a single post from hundreds of posts that didn’t feature the word, and in most posts, I used it several times.
I started to look at how the word affected the post, and noticed that whenever the word appeared it was as if a little alarm went off. Blah, blah, blah, but blah, blah, blah, blah. Whatever the subject matter of the sentence, I realised the word was saying to me,
There’s something wrong here, something not right.
I started to experience the powerfully destructive nature of the word. It is the hand grenade of the linguistic world, thrown in to a sentence and causing carnage on all sides.
From that day on, I resolved to aim to give up the word “but” and replace it with “and”. Several years on, this is still an aim of mine. Sometimes, I succeed, other times, I fall back into the old pattern. What always surprises me is how strong is my resistance to giving it up, and how oddly the “and” can sound.
Try it for yourself and see. Note what’s there for you as you write a sentence without it, as you attempt to find ways to communicate your thought without using it. Note the strangeness of the word “and” to our habitual patterns of writing and thinking.
What you might also notice, particularly after you’ve practised for some time giving up the word, is how powerful your writing has grown.
Reblogged from my business website: Business Writing Coach. Subscribe on the site to get new blog posts by email.