Bullying the Word: ‘Actually’

There are several words about which I feel less thrilled than others, and which I try to avoid when possible, but there is one in particular:


Why? Fair question. Admittedly, it is more because of a gut-feeling than anything else, but here goes.

I dislike ‘actually‘ with that extra fervour due to its charge: in almost whatever way it is used, it suggests some sort of superiority on behalf of the speaker. Let me illustrate.

If used as a reply to somebody’s claim, the derogatory sense becomes obvious. By meeting an argument/assertion with ‘actually‘ you immediately sign post that the person is wrong in one way or the other, and you know the correct information. Even if this is done in a positive light, say in response to someone’s negative assumption, for example that the world is going to, de facto, end tomorrow. ‘Actually, it’s not’ undermines the claim, puts the used on top of the subject, i.e. suggests superiority.

If we instead place it the middle of the sentence: ‘Jackman is usually not my favourite, but I actually liked him in Les Mis’ we are instead faced with an anomaly, something that ought to be acknowledged, elevated, noted. Compare this sentence to if you use ‘really’ instead or simply remove the horrendous word altogether: ‘Jackman is usually not my favourite, but I [really] liked him in Les Mis’. Much better. Much less ‘in your face’.

And then there’s the worst kind. The one which will trigger eye rolling all around and that burning zest of annoyance within. The ‘Actually‘ at the end of the sentence. ‘I didn’t like him, actually.’ Oh dear me, the finalising part like a slap across the face, like a boxing glove of ‘I need to oppose any opinion and be unique.’ Without it, like above, it is a harmless and perfectly all right statement; with it, it gains emotional charge, a magnetism of such strong force it will inevitably clash with something sooner or later.

What has this to do with fiction writing? Well, except that I do all I can to avoid using this word in narrative parts, it is available for characterisation in their speech! Got an annoying character and you want to eccentuate his personality? Think about what annoys you, what would annoy another person. For me, that would certainly mean using the word ‘Actually‘ in his/her speech.

Then again, perhaps that’s just me. I can be little bit snobbish at times when it comes to linguistics.



One thought on “Bullying the Word: ‘Actually’

  1. Hi Jo. I stumbled across your blog via a friend of a friend on Twitter. I always enjoy checking out the blogs people list in their Twitter information boxes and was not disappointed!

    I was so pleased to read this article as it explains succinctly and effortlessly what it is about the misuse of the word ‘actually’ that annoys me [everyone] so much! Unless you have already, and I haven’t been able to find it, are you planning on writing a similar article for the word ‘Literally?’ 😉

    Also, I recently saw an RSA Animate explaining the proper usage of the word ‘ironic’ – your article reminded me of that.

    If you are considering writing another piece similar to this one, I would be very interested in inviting you to guest blog for our site. Please don’t feel any pressure at all though – we are very laid back!

    While the site is currently geared towards Loughborough Uni students, our blog is marketed to a national/ international student audience which is where our guest bloggers take the opportunity to write.

    Feel free to contact me if you would like to chat or to find out more information! Otherwise, thanks for a great article and best of luck with your aspirations of becoming a writer. I have shared this page on one of our twitter feeds! 🙂

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