ECHO Echo echo echoooo

Echo LogoSeveral of the authors with whom I work are concerned about “echo words”. Yet when I explained to one client that he used a great many “echo words” in his business proposal, he had no idea what the term meant. So what are echo words?

An obvious example of an echo word is (usually) merely typographical error:

  • Fred sat on the the bench waiting for the moment the birds grew comfortable with his presence.  

In this sentence, “the” is used twice, when it is clearly needed only once. As a writer re-reads her work, immediate echo errors are often overlooked because her eye and brain will simply skip over them. For me, her editor, it is an easy peasy correction:

  • Fred sat on the the bench waiting for the moment the birds grew comfortable with his presence.  

The not so obvious, but most commonly used, instance of echo words are more than typo. They are the difference between a clean paragraph, and section loaded with extraneous fillers.

  • Fred just wanted to be alone with his thoughts while he feed the pigeons. He wished the kids playing close by would just go away. Every time they screamed and laughed, Fred jumped, which startled the pigeons. They would fly just beyond the reach of where he tossed seeds. Finally, the children moved on to another part of the park. Fred just sat on the bench waiting for just the right moment when the birds grew comfortable with his presence. 

You can’t help but notice them, right? Repeated use of “just” until you just want to toss the story aside for something better written? As a reader, it seems easy enough to spot these echo words. However, the writer often does not afford herself this clear perspective. When words are rushing from her fingers, springing from the computer screen back into her mind, they bounce around helping to form the next sentence, until several sentences are strung together to form a paragraph and she is confident her meaning is clear. The scene set, she moves on to the next idea.

But wait! She just used “just” five times in just four sentences! With all that bouncing, old words are reintroduced into new sentences. “Just” is echoed in her mind, and in her story. It is my experience in editing that an author can self-correct about a third of her echo words. The rest her eyes just won’t catch. I will see the remaining two-thirds, silence the unnecessary, and allow what’s left to properly convey the author’s message, in her voice.

  • Fred wanted to be alone with his thoughts while he feed the pigeons. He wished the kids playing close by would just go away. Every time they screamed and laughed, Fred jumped, which startled the pigeons. They would fly beyond the reach of where he tossed seeds. Finally, the children moved on to another part of the park. Fred sat on the bench waiting for the moment when the birds grew comfortable with his presence. 

A great tool for eliminating echo words is the same tool we were taught, as young writers, not to use. We were encouraged to learn all words in the dictionary. The idea being, with a good grasp of words, a thesaurus would be unnecessary. To this I say phooey: ah, boo, egad, er, golly, huh, jeepers, oh, oops, ouch, pooh, psst, shucks, ugh, um, whatever, why not, wow, you’re kidding! Although I do stand behind the notion to know your language well, to never use a thesaurus is foolish! It is a tool, utilize it. After all, when a writer is inspired and rushing to get a story in writing, often synonyms will escape even the best.
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