Good language isn't simply about picking words that work, it's about picking the right words and understanding why they work. Our language, thanks to finance, business, and government jargon, has diluted into a muddle of close-enoughs, complex words of meaningless dribble, bad synonyms, and a general laziness when it comes to the particulars of words. If you're working with math, you simplify—you won't write an integral function where a simpler equation suits better; language is no different.
I can't nitpick every word and mistake and misspelling here—if you want a reference book for most uncertainties, get Garner's Modern English Usage (highly recommended). Let's begin with something basic: The government utilizes taxes to support itself and its people. At this current moment in time I am hungry, but the unfavorable weather that has set in keeps me from running to the deli. Grammatically, those sentences are fine, but stylistically they are agonizing. Utilize is a bad word that we use because use doesn't sound smart enough. At this current moment in time or any of its variants are wordy and weak synonyms for now (most of the time it can be cut out altogether). Unfavorable weather sounds like a student attempting intelligence by dodging the simpler alternative: rain. Here are the revisions: The government uses taxes to support itself and its people. I am hungry, but the rain keeps me from running to the deli.
It doesn't end with cumbersome synonyms or weak, long words replacing short, powerful ones. Fluffing writing with big words, lengthy descriptions, and a lack of editing can be easily fixed by a critical eye. The real problem comes with close-enoughs, which for most people pass by unnoticed, but for some stand as the barrier between good writing and great writing. If you think your writing is up to snuff, I challenge you to a little quiz (remember, this is American English).
Choose the right, better, or recommended choice(s) from the options and explain why:
1) to impact; to affect
2) bare with me; bear with me
3) beside me, nobody can do it; besides me, nobody can do it
4) alright; allright; all right
5) besides the point; beside the point
6) gray; grey
7) naive; naïve; naif
8) octopodes; octopi; octopuses
9) goddamned; goddamn; goddam
10) crawfish; crayfish; crawdad
(Answers at the bottom.) Words and phrases, like math or anything else, have proper and improper use. You can be wrong and many people might not care, but if language is something you use more than anything you ever studied, you might as well show a little interest in it. Just because it is often taught as an ambiguity—art rather than science—does not mean anything goes. And whatever you choose to do, at least stay consistent. There's nothing worse than publishing Fifty Shades of Grey and using gray 104 times. (I checked, she also used grey.)
1) to affect. Impact is a noun. It is mistakenly used as a verb, but it is not to be confused as one.
2) Unless you wish to strip naked, you'll want to use bear with me.
3) Beside means alongside, in comparison with; besides means in addition, other than, except. Besides me, nobody can do it.
4) all right. All other version are incorrect.
5) beside the point. See question three.
6) Gray is standard in American English, grey in British English.
7) naive. Microsoft Word is wrong to suggest naïve, and unless you're The New Yorker, diaereses are outdated.
8) Octopus comes from Greek, not Latin, thus octopodes is the traditional plural, but now rare. The standard, and most accepted, plural is octopuses.
9) Strictly speaking, it's always goddamned, but goddamn has become more common (and accepted).
10) My personal favorite. Crayfish is the technical and original term, while crawfish is the Creole dialect. But due to the popularity of Creole foods, crawfish has become as common and accepted as crayfish, except in zoological settings. Crawdad is only dialect.