Do you know what a hedge word is? What about hedging your bets? Do you know that phrase?
Hedge has a number of definitions in Webster’s, and the one I’m thinking of is a definition for the noun hedge, the one that means “a calculatedly noncommittal or evasive statement.” Suppose a young man asks a woman for a date on Saturday and she says, “Well, I’m not sure I’m going to be available that evening. Can I let you know by Friday?” Now she may be waiting to see whether her long-lost cousin makes it to town, which is one possible scenario. She could also be waiting to see whether a better offer comes along for the weekend, and in that case, she’s hedging and intentionally being evasive.
Hedge words can crop up in our writing, and we need to—how can I put this?—kill them. Yes, that’s it. Take. Them. Out.
As a writer and editor, I look for hedge words and get rid of them to create stronger sentences. I won’t share real examples from clients, but I don’t mind sharing a few hedge words I recently found in a sentence of my own. This sentence comes from a cozy mystery I’m working on and describes an artist who creates powerful collages from found objects. The first sentence is what I originally wrote, and the second sentence is the new and improved version.
See how awful those hedge words are in the first sentence? “Somehow.” If the author doesn’t know how, the reader won’t know how. She “managed to use.” Why not just “used”? “Find a way to weave.” Yuck. Just say “weave,” for goodness’ sake. I did decide I liked the repetition of “just the right element” and “just the right piece.” Because I whittled away those nasty hedge words, I felt good about keeping the repetition in the sentence.
Hedge words are timid little scaredy-cats that strip our writing of its power. At the high school dance, they’re the wallflowers standing by the refreshment table, the ones afraid to say “hello,” the ones who have zero self-confidence. I’m determined to make my words act like the prom king and queen, so the hedge words have to go.
So remember: If you’re aiming for powerful, clear writing, no hedging.