REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading

When the right word is still the wrong word

This came up earlier today over on the Twitterthing, and it’s worth a short blog post.

There’s “erstwhile” and there’s “ersatz,” and neither one means “so-called.”

I’ve seen it happen enough times that I made a note for myself. A writer wants to use a fancier word instead of “so-called,” and they grab “erstwhile.” Trouble is, that means “formerly” or (currently, more often) “former.” What they think they want is “ersatz,” which means “substitute, replacement, fake, faux” and suchlike that there. It doesn’t mean “so-called.”

The erstwhile mayor showed up at the commemoration wearing an ersatz fur with alarmingly realistic holes as if actual moths had eaten at it.

If you want to say “so-called,” say it. Just like that. It’s legal. I swear.

What do you mean by “careful?”

Last week I saw a post from Grammarly that asked the question “Have you become more or less careful with your writing?” (That’s the gist. I don’t recall if there was a time span mentioned, nor does it really matter.) My first thought was: That all depends on what you mean by “careful.” Continue reading

#HomophoneHell: Bear and Bare

I see this error so often in both edited and unedited work, I have to write about it. As usual, it’s something I never had trouble with, so I have problems understanding why it’s so hard to get it right. I’m mean like that. However, I’ll do my best to explain. I’m helpful like that, too. Continue reading

#HomophoneHell: Stationary/stationery

The word pair is right up there (::points to the blog post title::): stationary and stationery. They sound exactly the same, and sadly the latter has fallen into disuse to the point where some people don’t even know the word anymore. Continue reading

#HomophoneHell Is Coming!

It’s almost time for #HomophoneHell again (October’s coming up fast!), so I’m getting the jump on it with this post about some of the most troublesome words in English: lead/led, and their rhyming partners read/red. For whatever reason, I don’t see the last ones misused nearly as often as the first ones. Continue reading

Book Discussion: Accidence Will Happen, by Oliver Kamm

Right off the bat, let me say that there isn’t a typographical error in the title. I wager most of this blog’s followers know that, but some might not. My college-student stepdaughter winced when she saw my copy of this lying on the table, and said, “That typo on the cover, though.” I set her straight immediately.

Accidence is that portion of grammar that deals with inflection. Inflection is the way a word changes to denote a specific grammatical category. For example: “Sang” is the past tense of “sing.” We know that because it changes form. It changes again for the past participle “sung.” Of course, that’s an irregular form. The same process happens with regular verbs, like talk/talked/talked, but by adding a suffix instead of altering the spelling of the root form. It happens with nouns, too: cat/cats, goose/geese. Now you know, if you didn’t before.

Now that I’ve concluded the brief grammar lesson, on to the discussion. Continue reading

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

“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.

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.