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A year or more ago, someone on this website used a word which I cannot now recall. He or she used the word to describe how the word it is often used in a non-specific way and with no clear referent.

My first question is:

What might have been the descriptive word--or words--this person used to describe that particular use of it?

My second question arises from a verbal habit I've been trying to break myself of lately, and that is the overuse of the word it, particularly when the word has no clear referent. My second question, then:

Is my attempt worth the effort?

Frankly, I've sort of enjoyed the process of wording sentences without using the word it overmuch, but as with my effort of limiting my use of the locution "due to the fact that," I am beginning to wonder, however, if my efforts are worth it. (Oops, I've used the word it unnecessarily! As President Reagan would say, "There you go again . . ..")

To ground my question in reality, here are a couple of sentences which use the offending word it somewhat amorphously, each of which is followed by a sentence without the offending word:

  • How far is it from New York City to Los Angeles?
  • What is the distance between New York City and Los Angeles?
  • To me it seems the idea is quite do-able.
  • I think the idea is quite doable.
  • Whenever it occurs to you, please write me a letter.
  • Whenever you think of writing a letter to me, please do so.

The above sentences are the best I could come up with on short notice, so they may not be perfect exemplars, but I hope they serve at least to illustrate the "amorphous it."

  • Are you thinking of "dummy" it? Or possible "weather" it? – BillJ Jun 29 '16 at 17:54
  • @BillJ: I don't think so, Bill. Don – rhetorician Jun 29 '16 at 18:04
  • 'Semantically empty'? – user164312 Jun 29 '16 at 18:23
  • A form of 'demonstrative it'? – AmI Jun 29 '16 at 22:17
  • @PaulM: Sounds good to me, but I don't think that's it. Don – rhetorician Jun 30 '16 at 3:32
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Perhaps you are thinking of expletives:

Expletives are phrases of the form it + be-verb or there + be-verb. Such expressions can be rhetorically effective for emphasis in some situations, but overuse or unnecessary use of expletive constructions creates wordy prose. Take the following example: "It is imperative that we find a solution." The same meaning could be expressed with this more succinct wording: "We must find a solution."

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