Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Grammar Gripe

by Janis Patterson
Like most writers, I am an avid reader and, being a writer as well as daughter and granddaughter of writers, am more picky than most.
There’s something going on more and more lately that distresses me. In the last few books I’ve read there have been totally egregious errors that should never have made it past the first draft. This isn’t just badly edited indie books; some of the worst examples came from what I had thought were respected publishers, both small and large.
So what has me in such a tizzy?
First, as a charter member of the American Association Against Apostrophe Abuse, I start to hyperventilate at such elementary errors such as “… going to the Smith’s house…” when it should be “…going to the Smiths’ house…” if the writer is talking about an abode belonging to a multi-person family named Smith. There is a difference between singular possessive and plural possessive. Of course, if you’re talking in the vernacular about going to a blacksmith’s house, then smith’s would be the proper usage – in this case, smith would be a singular noun.
Just as bad if not worse is it’s and its.  When it’s is used as “…it’s a beautiful day…” i.e., “…it is a beautiful day…” that’s just fine. When used as “…it’s blue color was beautiful…” i.e., “…it is blue color was beautiful…” (which makes no sense) can make me violent. Its is possessive. It’s is a contraction of it is.
That isn’t too difficult, is it? Especially for people who write books and call themselves authors? Apparently it is.
What really sends me over the edge, though, is the homonymic mayhem that seems to be going through the land like a plague.
For example, I just read a book where the author described a bloody crime scene as ‘grizzly.’ It makes the mind boggle that he might think a gory setting might be described as gray/graying, an enormous bear or a mining screen, all of which are called ‘grizzly.’ Presumably the word he wanted was ‘grisly,’ which, according to the OED,  means causing horror or fear, or being horrible or terrible to behold. But if that’s what he meant, why didn’t he use the correct word?
Yet another author mixed up ‘broach’ (to open) and ‘brooch’ (a pin worn on a lady’s blouse), two words that have no relationship to each other and in juxtaposition are terribly confusing.
Another ghastly mistake made by too many is roil and royal.
Caul and cowl.
Bate and bait.
Pier and peer.
Foul and fowl.
Right and rite.
Pair, pear and pare.
Peek, peak and pique.
And of course, the classic trio – to, too and two.
There are many more, far too many to count, and far too many misusages of them, too. What I don’t understand is how people can dare to call themselves professional authors and offer their stories to the unsuspecting public when they let such terrible errors slide by. When you come down to it, writing is supposed to be about communication. As novelists we try to create a world, a separate place in time and space for our reader. Such errors as pointed out above rend that world, rudely jerking the reader out of the place we have so carefully created.
In a 100,000 word book we can overlook a typo or two and read right over them without a blip, but too many of them are as irritating as sand in the eye. Misused words are worse. They can turn what is a fairly decent story into a wallbanger more quickly than you can imagine. Why do writers not do their due diligence in word choice and correct usage?
It’s a mystery.
Now that’s out of the way, I have to brag for a moment. Monday, 1 October was the release date for my new lighthearted cozy mystery BEADED TO DEATH from Carina Press. It’s a fun read, all about a bead artist who returns home from a craft show trip to find an unknown dead man on her living room rug. Before long her life is taken up with drug smuggling, an FBI agent who may or may not be rogue and a 7’3” nephew who is on the run from an unwanted basketball scholarship.
And I most solemnly promise you won’t find any misplaced apostrophes or homonymic mayhem in it! (Unless the typo gremlins changed things after our final copy edit!)

Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.


Mar Preston said...

And public radio commentators who say "your" for "you're." You might as well scratch the blackboard, far as I'm concerned.

And whatever is happening to the "g" on the end of the present progressive?

Give up, I suppose. Language continually changes.

Randy Rawls said...

Well said, Janis. While I'm quite sure I'm one of your culprits, the same things drive me nuts when I see them in a so-called finished product.
Do we blame the author? Of course. But whatever happened to editors?

Susan Union said...

Great blog Janis.
I was so excited to see my first feature article in print for a horse magazine years ago, but much to my dismay my trainer walked up to me, magazine open to the first page of my article, and slapped it in my palm. "You spelled conformation wrong," she said and walked away.
I thumbed through the pages and found that I had spelled conformation (meaning the shape of a horse) as confirmation (the action of confirming something). The editor hadn't caught it and, of course, neither had I. Needless to say I never made that mistake again.

Morgan Mandel said...

I find myself typing the wrong spelling for words when I type fast, even though I know in my head which is the correct one to use. Apparently, the fingers work faster than the brain!

I've also find out you can't trust Spell Check, because at times it offers the incorrect spelling.

Morgan Mandel