Sunday, March 29, 2009

Virtually Speaking

The word virtually is overused. In many cases using the word virtually simply means not. For example:
I have finished virtually all of my homework.

This new surgical procedure is virtually pain-free.
In Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner counts virtually as a weasel-word. Weasel-words are so named because of the habit of weasels to attack birds' nests, and eat their eggs by sucking the meat out, leaving an empty shell." Likewise, words such as virtually "have the effect of rendering uncertain or hollow the statements in which they appear."

So be careful using virtually, or other words that similarly diminish the words around them. Other weasel-words commonly used by writers today include significantly, obviously, very, and quite.

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