Tell Me If You’ve Heard This One Also…

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I was still reading my dictionary this week. Here are a few more charming but seldom seen words.

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asseverate – to declare earnestly or solemnly, to affirm positively

brisance – the shattering power of high explosives

cavil – a trivial and irritating objection, to raise such as objection or to find fault unnecessarily

daubery – unskilful painting or work

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Tell Me If You’ve Heard This One Before…

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I was reading my dictionary as I sometimes do and came across some lovely underused (possibly widely unknown) words. I’m always a bit iffy about actually including these sorts of words in my writing because most people will just go, “Huh?” and have to look up their meaning (and that’s in the very unlikely event that they can be bothered).

So instead I will just leave them here to be admired in isolation. Enjoy. Continue reading

Spelling

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Hi, all. I’m hoping you can help me with something. A couple of months ago, I posted about wanting to write a book about writing for child writers. This is the first chapter I’ve written and I’d love some feedback on whether it’s appropriate for the target audience. (I like to think there’s something in it for us grown-ups too.) Thanks.

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Why Is Spelling Important for Writers?
Wen a werd iz speld rite, it’s eze-er 2 reed. Wen a sintins iz speld rite, the meenin iz eze-er 2 unerstan. wen a howl artycall, storie or bok iz speld rite, ur reedr well no wat u wer tring 2 til thum.

What? Let me make it clear by fixing up the spelling.

When a word is spelled right, it’s easier to read. When a sentence is spelled right, the meaning is easier to understand. When a whole article, story or book is spelled right, your reader will know what you were trying to tell them. Continue reading

The Thirty Books That Spark My Joy

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Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock will have heard of Marie Kondo, the tidying expert. She helps people to declutter their homes and their lives and when it comes to books, she lives by the following motto: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.”

As happens frequently on the internet, this statement went through a huge round of Chinese (or perhaps that should be Japanese, in light of her nationality) whispers and suddenly everyone was saying that Marie Kondo was telling people to throw away most, if not all, of their books.

She wasn’t saying that. Her general advice is that the items you do keep should spark your joy. And if books spark your joy, then feel free to have as many of them as you want.

Books spark my joy. I have thousands. I have an entire room just for my books. I could have bought a cheaper house if books didn’t spark my joy so much. Still, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to find the thirty books that really spark my joy. Continue reading

Noah Webster and His Hainous Korus of Grotesk Syllables: How British English Became American English and the Main Differences

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Noah Webster has a lot to answer for. A prolific American writer and editor, he was also dedicated to the reformation of English spelling. He compiled several dictionaries over his lifetime, including spellings that more closely matched how the words were pronounced instead of the traditional compositions. In most cases, he didn’t originate these revised spellings but he was responsible for popularising them and many of the “reformed” spellings gradually became standard throughout the United States, the reason we now have significant differences between British English and American English.

Without any academic study to back it up, I have often thought that Americans frequently do things simply to be different from the British and in reading up about Webster, I discovered this to be true in relation to his spelling changes. Yet again, we discover the US is the source of a bloody annoying and unnecessary set of circumstances.

Some of his revised spellings didn’t catch on. If they had, I beleev wimmin (and men) would be spewing forth a steddy and hainous korus of grotesk syllables from their tungs, creating a nightmar for the masheen I’m now typing on. (The Spell Checker is going to have a field day with that sentence.)

As much as I would clearly like to, we’re not going to be able to wind back the changes that did catch on. But what we writers and editors should do is make sure that when we edit, we pick one variation of English and stick to it. This will largely be guided by the location of the primary audience.

There are lots of differences between British English and American English, far too many to go into here. But here are a few highlights to help begin the process and ensure consistency. Continue reading

Misspellings, Misuses and Typos: Getting It Right Helps Readers Get You (and Not Want to Get You)

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As the heading suggests, English is a complex language. There are many, many instances of exactly the same or similar words meaning very, very different things – after all, writers want readers to get them (in the sense of understanding) but they very rarely want readers to get them (in the sense of being attacked). A blog I recently read on Hubspot about twenty-five common grammatical errors contained a comment from someone calling himself (or herself) BJ that “as long as you don’t do anything egregious you can bend and break the rules as much as you want. The only thing that matters is whether or not the reader understands, accepts and appreciates how you communicate with them.” BJ promptly earned himself (or herself) a grand verbal spanking from everybody else reading the article. In fact, I couldn’t find a single comment supporting that view. Perhaps because anyone who was inclined to read a post on that topic wasn’t likely to understand, accept and appreciate BJ’s views.

The fact is that more people get annoyed by writers bending and breaking the rules than support “creative” but incorrect approaches so it’s generally in your best interests to try to get it right. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a misspelling, a misuse or a typo, the effect is the same – it’s wrong. In fact, you can run the Spelling & Grammar Check as many times as you want but the problem with Microsoft Word is that if a word is spelled correctly, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the context, it won’t be highlighted as an error by the program. I once accidentally typed “whale dongs” as two of my characters discussed a potential soundtrack for meditation. Of course, I meant “whale songs” but it could have been highly embarrassing if I hadn’t picked it up. And it could be much worse, especially if you confuse your onus with your anus.

There are some obvious homonyms like “here” and “hear” and “none” and “nun” that I hope don’t need explanation but here are a few to be on the lookout for. Continue reading

For the Love of Language

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I like knowing stuff. It doesn’t matter what that stuff is, I just like knowing it. Knowledge is cool. I haven’t figured out what to do with it all yet but in the meantime, I’m continuing to accumulate it.

In that spirit, I was watching a couple of documentaries about Tourette’s syndrome – one focused on children struggling with the condition and the other explored the difficulties in obtaining employment when unable to control muscular and vocal tics. And as I commonly do (because I always want to know more), I Googled Tourette’s syndrome and began reading on Wikipedia about the details the documentaries weren’t going into.

One of the children in the documentary and one of the men looking for work had what I discovered was called coprolalia – “the utterance of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks” – and that only a small minority of people with Tourette’s exhibit this symptom. When I clicked through the link to find out more about coprolalia, I discovered that “copro” came from the Greek for “faeces” and “lalia” came from the Greek for “to talk”. Coprolalia literally means “to talk shit”. Continue reading