May 24th, 2012 .

Presently not needed

Max Morden

I like to travel by Via Rail. When I need to talk to someone in person I often am irked by the recorded message: “All of our agents are presently busy. Please stay on the line…”

It’s not the wait that bothers me. It’s the use of the word presently that I object to.

People often use words like presently to pad their writing and give it a greater sense of substance. In some contexts presently can mean in a short time or soon, as in the sentence: the delegation will be here presently. Used in that sense the word is essential to the meaning.

But more often than not presently is used to mean now, as in the Via message: ”All of our agents are presently busy. In this sense, does it add anything at all to the meaning? No – so why not just delete it?

Currently is another word that tends to be overused in this context. Again, it is often non-essential, as in the sentence: “With more students applying, Ontario universities are currently hiring new faculty members.” There is the occasional time when you might want to use currently to contrast past from present – although why not use the simpler and shorter word, now.

Presently and currently are examples of words that people use all the time to add bulk to their writing without meaning. The next time you self-edit your work, do a little exercise.  Delete every word or phrase that’s non-essential to the meaning. You will be surprised to find how much you can reduce your prose and still say exactly the same thing. You’ll also be surprised to find that your trimmed down version is more punchy and powerful.




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