Swearing Like a Mofo, and Other Expletives

'It' and 'There'—Nasty Little Fuckers


While expletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line,
While they ring round the same unvaried chimes,
With sure returns of still expected rhymes.
—Alexander Pope
"An Essay on Criticism: Part 2"

Let's talk about expletives.

When I say "expletives," I don't mean what most people think of, swear words ("bitch, cunt, asslicker, motherfucker, douchebag, dickhead, asshole, fuckstick"—I think you get the idea), but rather a reference to a subject or an object that delays the appearance of a sentence's subject. The most of these are clauses formed by "it" or "there" with a "being" verb:

it is, was, could be, would be, might be, etc.

there are, is, was, were, could be, would be, might be, etc.

A sentence using an expletive is a fairly common passive construction that writers are typically advised to avoid.

You must eliminate these obscenities from your writing (trust me, writing "there are" is way more obscene than writing "cunt licker." (I know, I know. "Cunt licker" is probably "cuntlicker" by now. Whatever.) Well, most of the time. If you can eliminate the expletive without changing the meaning of the sentence, do it.

Most expletives are stupid and make your writing fatty, thus rendering it stupid as well (or at the end of the production cycle, being most enjoyed by readers who are stupid). As George Michael once said to Divine, "Just say no" (it's possible that he never said that).
I once excised every "there is," "there are," "there was," "there were," "it is," and "it was" was from a novel. At first the author was pissed (not to worry—I had retained a crappier version with his original writing just in case reinsertion became necessary), but ultimately he understood the subtle genius of my approach and succumbed to my superior knowledge and skill. Of course, I rewrote these obscenities so they read like little flowers on a prairie, dripping of peyote and mescal. I let him keep a "there was" on the last page, though. Cuz I'm a giver and shit.

"But how may I give an expletive the beating and ultimately destruction needed to protect the world from global war and famine?" you may ask. Check it:

There was a blue car coming down the hill 

versus 

A blue car was coming down the hill 

or better

A blue car came down the hill

Here's another example:

It is a tragedy so many supposed "writers" are illiterate 

 versus 

The tragedy is that so many supposed "writers" are illiterate 

or better 

So many supposed "writers" are illiterate—such a fucking tragedy

Weed out those f'ing expletives, Buckeroos. It will declutter your writing and make the remaining words more powerful. 

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