When language obscures clarity

Quick, what’s the difference between “avoid” and “use sparingly?” Not so fast, cowboy — think about that for a minute.

The first means “keep away from” or “refrain from.” The second means to use with “careful restraint.” Argues one editor I know: “They’re basically the same thing.” Yet another opines, “The first implies you shouldn’t do something. The second says you can do it sometimes.”

Why does this matter? Because the team is collaborating on an editorial style guide and the directions above will apply to word usage. My question: If even the editors can’t agree on meaning, how will a writer interpret these guidelines?

My advice: Just use plain English. If you don’t want someone to use a word, say exactly that: Don’t use <word>. If you can use it once in a while, say that. But don’t confuse everyone by trying to get all concise and clever.

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