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Actually, my diet at actually getting rid of actually not an actual success, actually

January 30, 2012
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

I am on an “actually” diet. I’ve dropped about 16 actuallys a week, but still have another 20 actuallys to go.

There’s always a wake-up call, like when your fat jeans don’t fit; you know something’s got to be done. And my “actually” problem was no exception. The first tip came when I heard a co-worker who has been sentenced to transcribe Mail Call grousing mildly about how the word “actually” has become the kudzu of the English language.

It’s getting to be a lot like “really,” which as words go is little more than a grunt with consonants.

I agreed with my coworker wholeheartedly, until a self-conscious twitch took hold behind my left ear. Something I had noticed a month previous, but blown off as an irrational worry, was now raising its ugly head (flash to dream sequence).

Two months ago, a Herald-Mail correspondent was good enough to do a story and film a video clip at our farm announcing publication of my new book “Strange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War.”

In truth, the video portion of the interview came as a surprise, but I did my best. I put it out of mind for a time, but maybe a couple of weeks later I remembered the video and wondered how it had turned out, so I called it up.

There were some problems.

Most notably, was that in telling a story about the Confederates’ movements prior to Antietam, I must have used the word “actually” an average of six times a minute. It wasn’t exactly an “oops” moment, but it was pretty noticeable.

Fortunately, I was bailed out by my alpaca, a big, jet-black boy who goes by the name of Copperfield. In the video, you can see him approaching behind my right shoulder, curious about the strange happenings outside his paddock. Over my shoulder, he peers at the camera as closely as if he’s thinking of buying the same model for himself. Then, satisfied that there is no immediate threat — and right when I’m about to make the most compelling point in the talk — he squats and takes what seems like a 30-minute whiz.

Really, it was impossible to focus on what I was saying, what with Copper stealing the show in the background. I read that celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow did the same thing once. He ran a wire down the length of his cigar so the ash wouldn’t fall away, then lit the stogie right as the prosecutor began his closing argument. The jury became so absorbed watching the smoldering cigar to see when the lengthening ash would drop that they missed the prosecutor’s argument in total. I know it’s really not the same, but …

So anyway, there it was, right on tape: I am an actually addict.

Actually is the pork rinds of the English language. It sounds good going down, because it is a transitional word that can soften abrupt paragraph shifts, much like mayonnaise bridges the gap between bread and ham slice. But of itself, it is an empty word with no real nutritional meaning.

The problem that I face is that “actually” signals the introduction of a contrary opinion, and I go through contrary opinions like thin carrots through a tall vegan. I know, I know. This is the “I have big bones” argument of literary excess. There may be some rumor of truth to it, but when you’re sloppy fat on meaningless adverbs, such facts are incidental.

The problem is that when you start overusing words out of force of habit, it can be awfully hard to quit. Pretty soon it just becomes a word you say when your brain is empty of anything else, like “awesome,” “exactly” or “liberal elites.”

So now that I’ve ID’d the problem, how am I doing on this diet? Actually, not all that well.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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