The three Bs

I wonder whether some words are fading out of favour because people think they sound too blunt or ordinary.

Sometimes an author’s solution to avoiding blunt words is to use longer phrases (such as using ‘in the event that’ instead of ‘if’). But often their solution is just to use a word they think sounds more elegant or formal.

I think that is the case for three B words that are fading away: but, before and because.

These are plain, simple words that say what they mean. Yet you rarely see them written any more:

‘But’ is replaced with ‘yet’ or ‘however’.

‘Before’ is replaced with ‘prior to’.

‘Because’ is replaced with ‘as’ or ‘since’ (or of course the more cumbersome ‘due to the fact that’).

I am not sure why the replacements are regarded as more elegant than the originals (any theories welcome!). Indeed, I’d argue that plain, simple words are especially elegant, and should be used more often.

As with all of these fading words, sometimes the replacement is less clear than the original because the new word has several meanings.

For example, ‘since’ can mean ‘because’, or it can mean ‘after the time that something happened’:

Since I caught the flu, I couldn’t go to the meetings.

Does this mean I couldn’t go to the meetings because I had the flu, or I couldn’t go after the time I caught the flu?

I’d like to suggest that we bring back some plain, simple – and sadly fading – words. Don’t be scared! Your writing will be clearer and no less elegant. Clap your hands and say ‘I believe in the three Bs!’.