Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pet (Writerly) Peeves

i understand our use of language is fluid. there seems no reason to harp that "all right" is two words. (why they remained separated when already was formed i do not know.) the use of well vs good is another lost cause. answering How are you? with I'm good stills sounds like editorializing to be, but sobeit. (i love writing that as one word, which i do in honor of my mentor Marilyn Marlow, who insisited on it.)

we bow to the vagaries of usage at different rates. i myself continue to appreciate the difference between "anxious" and "eager" and am surprised, unhappily, to see writers conflate the two. another of my bugaboos: fewer vs less. Fewer units sold, so the book made less money is correct. Less buyers are to blame is wrong.

i hated seeing sneaked give way to snuck, but i feel that train left the station and cannot be brought back.

yesterday i told a writer his protagonist, in context, would not feel "disgust"; she would feel "disdain". the writer said, Why, they are indistinct. no, no, a thousand times no. the difference between those words, in context, is the difference between his character and another.

we welcome your slings and arrows.


Bill said...

These are not quite the same, but how about toward vs. towards and backward vs. backwards?

I teach high school English, and I have a few students from Korea. I always sympathize them as they struggle to learn all the inconsistencies in English.

Anonymous said...

One of the great lessons I learned from my college linguistics classes, is that language is constantly in flux. If not we'd still be saying, "Dost thou have a cigarette perchance? For mine husband hath taken the last of mine forthwith."

This mindset, realizing that language is always changing, has helped me to be flexible in writing material targeted at a YA audience. Without that flexibility, my teen characters would sound like old codgers instead of believable teenagers.

With that said, I also want my writing to be comprehensible to audiences ten, twenty, even thirty years from now. So I find myself in a conundrum.

If you don't understand where I'm coming from, try teaching Love Story by Eric Segal or The Outsiders by SE Hinton to a group of teenagers today. And these novels are classics. But the trendy dialog in them is already obsolete.

Yet if you want to get sold, you've got to make characters use modern teenspeak. A prime example: the Clique series. Teens love these. They're hot items with trendy dialog that will be out of fashion in no time.

They sell. But will libraries keep replacing old copies with new in 40 years? No way.

Rant over.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. I've been an editor throughout most of my career, and it's such a shame nowadays when I read which and that used incorrectly, in published work. I have a few pet peeves on that front.

PassingLoveNotes, I agree with you that language changes over time, and in writing, we should be flexible with it. But to me, words should still be used in the correct way, and if they're not, it should mean something. And it's different in dialog and narrative.

For example, I think there are times when a character can use the word disdain in the wrong way, and it's on purpose by the writer. It shows the character is using the word in a colloquial way, so maybe he or she wasn't taught the proper way in school. Similarly, if the character speaks well, it suggests something different about that character's education level. I'd expect a teen to say "We need less cheerleaders," but not the English teacher.

Maddy said...

I think maybe the difference between the acceptability of 'alright' v 'all right' is an English / American difference, but I'm probably a bit out of touch, especially since I heard a BBC narrator say 'snuck.'

Search This Blog