English. Do you speak it?

Not the language. Not really. Do you speak grammar? Do you know technical grammatical terms like “indirect complement” and “predicative adjunct?”

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Titular or eponymous?

Here’s the definition of “titular.”

Here’s the one for “eponymous.”

Note that initially, “titular” has nearly nothing to do with the title of a book or story or what have you. It has to do with a title, as in an office (like queen or king or president), and with that title being “in name only” with no actual power. Continue reading

Humbled and happy

Late last month, I was mentioned in this article by Ben Yagoda at the Lingua Franca blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

As the title says, I’m humbled to have been included with such editing stars as John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun and Benjamin Dreyer of Random House. I’m also happy for the same reason. I don’t think of myself as anyone terribly notable, but apparently Ben thinks otherwise.

I thanked him on Twitter, but I’ll say it again: Thank you, Ben. It’s an honor.

The Joys and Terrors of Working with an Editor (a guest post from LJ Cohen)

I’m delighted to host Lisa Cohen today. She’s one of my regular clients, and she’s the author of both the CHANGELING’S CHOICE and HALCYONE SPACE series, among other titles.

We’re doing a giveaway in conjunction with this post. To qualify, simply leave a comment here on the blog. (Tweets and comments on G+ do not qualify. The comment must be here on the blog.) At the end of one week, starting today, one winner will be chosen at random. The winner can select any one title from all of Lisa’s ebooks, in whatever format they prefer.

Without more prattling from me, here’s Lisa. Continue reading

“Okay,” quoth he

That’s extreme, but it’s also an example of today’s subject: choosing the right words for your work.

One of my biggest concerns when I’m editing is “voice.” I work hard to maintain my clients’ “writer’s voice,” because it’s their writing, not mine, that is being published. Part of that work is helping them choose the best words for the purpose. And part of THAT work is, quite often, teaching them about diction.

Not in the sense of “enunciation or elocution.” In the sense of word choice. None of my clients would come up with a sentence like the one I used for the title of this post. Some of them, though, have more trouble than others keeping a grasp on the language that best suits their purpose. It’s particularly difficult with “medieval fantasy,” a phrase I’m using here to encompass “the usual” in terms of a story with a pseudo-medieval setting, royalty, wizards, magic, dragons, elves (and perhaps orcs and so on), and the like. Your standard fantasy, perhaps.

When I’m reading a story with this kind of setting, nothing jars me more than modern speech patterns, phrases, and words. “Okay” is one of them. “Alright” (sic) is another. (Yes, I sicced that. I don’t like it. I’ve tried to get used to it, but — no. I see no point in it. I waffle about allowing it or not, and ultimately, if my clients overrule me, that’s on them. I mark it every time.) “Are you really going there?” is yet another, when used to mean “Are you actually taking that route in this conversation?” These words and phrases have no place, in my opinion, in a medieval fantasy setting unless there’s time travel involved. If a character from our modern world winds up in that setting? Well, I’d expect that character to speak appropriately for their origin, and for the other characters to be confounded by it.

Certainly there’s no need to write in the style of Shakespeare in order to write fantasy. But there’s no reason not to use appropriate language and sentence structures, either. The words shape the reader’s experience. What do you want your reader to see, hear, feel, taste, touch? For me as a reader, a voice that seems to have no direction, that wanders between the language I expect to encounter in a fantasy setting and that I hear every day, confuses me. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be seeing, hearing, feeling . . . I need to be grounded in the world the writer’s created. The diction is the basis for that grounding. It’s entirely possible to use simple sentences and words to achieve this, just as it’s possible to use complex ones. The secret is in the combinations. I am not a writer, but I know when I’m drawn into a story and when I’m left floundering.

Hook me. Pull me in. Let me breathe the air of your world. Don’t throw me back out with poorly chosen words.

Mechanics: Nested Quotes

Let’s say you’re writing dialogue. And in that dialogue, someone quotes verbatim what someone else said. How do you show that, mechanically?

“We were just sitting around talking, and all of a sudden Josh says, ‘Amy told me she’s leaving me.’ Just like that. No lead-in or anything. Just dropped the bomb on us.” Continue reading

The State of the Blog: The First Four Years

When Ray and I first had the idea for this blog, we were both solidly in the “English is falling apart, usage is doomed, grammar is abysmal” camp. I, in particular, had just read a few self-published ebooks (for which I paid nothing, in exchange for reviews) that contained a horrifying number of actual errors. I mean, grammatical errors. Not stylistic choices. We’re talking about missing words, wrong words, agreement errors, and so on. Not long after that, during the early discussions about the purpose of a blog (if we were to create one), I decided to hang out my editor’s shingle and help some of these poor (literally – they’re not wealthy folks, as a rule) writers publish professionally edited work. That was in June of 2012.

We’re nearly to June of 2016 as I’m writing this, and man, things have changed for me. (I won’t attempt to speak for Ray. He’s got a full-time job and does freelance game design, writing, and editing as well, and hasn’t been active on the blog for quite some time. We’re both okay with that.) I’ve gone from a very prescriptivist view (this is right, that is wrong, and I don’t know why the hell you’d want to write that like you did) to a pragmatic view (you can read about it here), and I keep inching toward descriptivism a little every day. Why? Mostly because I’ve been learning from linguists and lexicographers over on Twitter. I’ve been editing steadily (indeed, I’ve tripled my income since I started the indie gig), and I learn something from every client. Editing fiction is not like editing textbooks or game rules. If I were editing mostly academic or technical materials, I might well have remained firmly on the prescriptivist side of the fence.

But I’m not, and I didn’t.

So, rather than posting a lot of photos of greengrocers’ apostrophes and other mechanical errors and typos common to public signage (everything from professionally printed billboards to the corner store’s handwritten notice), I’ve been steadily moving toward writing about, well, grammar and usage and mechanics, but in a way that teaches rather than vilifies. I must be doing something right. One of my most popular series of posts remains the trilogy “The Mechanics of Dialogue,” which I wrote in October 2014. I still see people sharing links to that (particularly the third installment about interrupted dialogue) on Twitter. I’m happy it’s of so much interest and use to folks.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a place for my kind of grammar blogging because, frankly, there are already so many amazing grammar bloggers out there, what’s one more? However, some of them follow me on Twitter (and I squeal like a four-year-old when I get a notification that another one has added me!), and we chat sometimes, and that’s something I never dreamed would happen. My writing voice is unlike anyone else’s. My method of teaching is unlike anyone else’s. My blog posts might be about the same topics, but they’re written in a way that’s unlike anyone else’s.

I’m finding my voice. And while I’m doing that, I’m continuing to help writers find and polish theirs.

That’s what it’s all about, four years on.

They were all together in the altogether.

Meaning, they were all in the same place (“all together”) and they were naked (“in the altogether”).

“Altogether” can mean “entirely or completely,” too: “That was altogether uncalled for.”

(And just now I looked at the word “together” and pondered why it looks the way it does. I do that, sometimes.)

“I’m glad to hear he’s not gone [all together, altogether].”

The first option doesn’t make sense, really. He’s not gone all in the same place? What? He’s not gone completely. He’s not gone altogether.

This is the kind of post that comes to me sometimes when I’m reading social media. Perhaps the person who wrote “all together” knows it should’ve been “altogether” but didn’t bother to edit, or to read before posting. It makes no difference to me, honestly — except when I’m being paid to edit, or when I’m looking for post fodder.

That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.

 

I don’t love you (anymore, any more)

Which one would you choose?

There really is a difference in meaning in AmE. They’re not interchangeable, and a copy editor worth their salt will be able to tell the difference.

“Anymore” is an adverb. “I don’t like pizza anymore. I ate myself sick on it, and now I can’t even smell the stuff without turning green.”

“Any more” isn’t the same thing. “I don’t want any more pizza. I’m afraid I’ll eat myself sick on it.” Here, “more” is an adjective (it modifies “pizza”). If you simply said “I don’t want any more,” “more” would be a pronoun (it stands for the thing you want no more of).

It might help to think “adverb” and “anymore” because both are single words. If you mean the adverb, use “anymore.”

As for the answer to the title question, if this is a complete sentence, then “anymore” is the word you want. “I don’t love you anymore.” (I no longer love you.) If there’s more coming, you might want “any more” — but it depends on what’s coming, y’know? “I don’t love you any more than I love my other three partners.” Or something. You figure it out. Please.