Thursday, November 09, 2006

Okay, this is the curse of being a high school English teacher for more years than God should allow: I can no longer read for the sheer pleasure of the magical word on the written page, for the riveting plot, or the redolent settings, or the outrageous characters.

Here's why: Recently a writer stated, "Oh give that to whomever is in the rec hall." I cringed, I gasped, I silently cursed whomever that writer had for freshman English. Did you notice how sneakily I slipped that example in there? Ha, not an English teacher for nothing.

Okay, here's the deal. I don't want to sound like a snob. And yes, I DO know that dialogue and jargon and regional dialects and characterizaion give us lots of room to play around. That's great. That's fine. That's A-okay. But here's the thing; it's still going to trip me up, make me pause, and pull me out of the narrative when I find a blatant error like that.

So, here's my question: Am I the only scrooge out there who freaks out over misapplied grammar, misstated malapropisms, and murky diction?

Come on, 'fess up. What's your biggest bugaboo? Come on; I know you got 'em!

12 Comments:

Anonymous Suzanne said...

It only bothers me if it's not in dialogue. In dialogue, I can go with it assuming it's part of characterization--people DO use bad grammar in real life. Outside of dialogue, it bugs me, too. (Unless the way the book is written calls for it, such as first person and it's characterization.)

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My biggest peeve is when a writer ends a sentence with a preposition. That is the kind of grammatical error with which I just will NOT put up!
R.Leslie

9:16 PM  
Blogger Jo Lewis said...

I so agree with you, Suzanne. Even in interior monologue the character would THINK in a certain way. Once in a contest, I used deliberately inaccurate language as a way to characterize a particular sheriff, and the judge corrected my grammar! I think maybe she missed my point :-) jo

9:48 PM  
Blogger Jo Lewis said...

Ha, R.Leslie, you almost date yourself with that comment!

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My pet peeve has always been their, there, and they're. Why? Because my high school freshman English teacher gave an automatic "F" for anyone who misused any one of them. It only took one F for me to figure them out.

Cindy
;-)

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just how does one properly state a malapropism? is it not, by definition, a misstatement? i tend to be bothered most by redundancy in writing...i REALLY VERY MUCH do...

hee hee
your 2nd daughter

7:56 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

What bugs me is overwritten corporate documents. I see them every day and still grit my teeth especially knowing that simpler sentences will never be adopted. And I'm stuck reading things like: After a review of the documents you provided it has been determined that with respect to your reference to.... etc. Gag! Good post - made me think.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

Hi Jo,

I am by no means perfect in the grammar department. I have dyslexia, add to that the fact I struggle to use American grammar and spellings rather than British English and I have a job on my hands.

I have no problem with misuse in dialogue, in fact, I think it is an excellent way of characterization. I don't enjoy books where all the characters have the same rhythm to their dialogue and speak in perfect English. Also, as someone else mentioned, I've no problem with quirky English in first person.I'm happy to tolerate some mistakes in narrative, but not others.

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of the word bring. It is so widespread in American English, at first, I assumed the rules must be different in American English and British English, but when I checked, they're the same. I was taught take away, bring here. I have chucked books at the wall when the author insists on using bring away all the time.

Helen

7:23 AM  
Blogger Playground Monitor said...

Oh wow. I should introduce you to our English major at the Writing Playground. She's always giving us the comma lecture. :grin:

That being said, good grammar is a must. Perfect grammar isn't though in a perfect world it would be. We at the Playground have had it pounded into our heads by a certain NY Times bestselling author that if the grammar is basically good and you haven't made any huge misspelling errors and the copy is clean, a few comma gaffes or sentences ending with a preposition won't keep your story from selling IF the story is strong.

So... I watch my grammar and spelling and try to tell a compelling story.

My bugaboo? People telling me that "was" is an ugly word and that using it makes the sentence passive voice. Also, people saying that adverbs are dirty words. I had the chance to look at an author's copy edits and the copy editor had actually ADDED some adverbs. :gasp:

Marilyn

9:47 AM  
Blogger Connie Barbour said...

Right now my peeve is this new Blogger Beta - it just ate my post!

Here in NC some folks use the term paper much differently than I am used to. For example, I would say, "The doctor's office gave me a form." Some folks here say, "The doctor's office gave
me a paper."

Another one is flower. I would say, "I sent flowers to my Mom." folks here say, "I sent a flower to my Mom."

Argh!

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now see I would say "I sent a double fudge chocolate cake to my Mom." But that's just me... well, actually that's just my Mom :)

I agree completely with the comments that in dialogue, perfect grammar is actually sort of... well, lame. Mom, if you recall, when I was reading your manuscript I would sometimes note "Would a brute cop really talk like that?", etc. When you know the author it is hard NOT to hear her voice in the characters. However you wouldnt want to hear the author's voice in ALL the characters.

MY peeve is the misuse of the word "badly". Your 2nd daughter uses it all the time and I have stopped getting on her about it. She has other things to worry about like her 3 year old sitting on the baby's head and stuff like that. So when I read in an email, "I felt badly after beating my son for karate chopping the baby in the head." I try not to be too picky considering the circumstances :)

This is fun! Can't wait to BLOG some more. Like I need something ELSE to distract me from my 12 loads of laundry waiting to be folded!

Shannon

3:10 PM  
Blogger Jo Lewis said...

Great comments from all of you. I think we all agree that incorrect grammar and word usage are not only appropriate in dialogue, but necessary. I also incorporate this attitude into my interior monologue. If my secondary character is a backwoods, illiterate type, for example, when I'm in his POV I want to show that characterization.

I still have trouble with certain spellings (and I'm not even British, just old!) like theatre and dialogue. What's really great about language is that it's a living, breathing and therefore changing entity.

Right now, the media drives language (in deference to space which means money). When I teach my students, for example, that "a lot" is two words, I always add that when THEY have teens, it'll be "alot," one word. Space. Bottom line: don't get too hung up on anything!

Now if I could just get used to putting ONE space after a period. And I've tried the find and replace function. All it does is delete ALL my periods.

Gee whiz, ain't life fun!

11:23 AM  

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