by Janis Patterson
Their going to brooch the door, and it will phase them awl if they find the diamond pen.
Nonsense, right? Definitely, though apparently not a growing number of ‘writers.’ I put writers in quote marks, because an alarmingly growing number of scribblers are putting such egregious mistakes all through their books. How can you expect a reader to stay in a story when clangers like this have to throw them out?
To elucidate using the example above - their (possessive which should modify/define something as in their boxes or their time) versus they’re (contraction of they are, a plural with a verb).
Or - brooch (a decorative piece of jewelry, usually large, and pinned onto a piece of clothing) versus broach (to open, as in door or cask or subject).
Or - phase (a measurement of time or behavior) versus faze (disconcert or disturb or sometimes startle).
Or - awl (a tool for piercing something, usually leather or wood) versus all (the whole quantity).
Or - pen (a writing implement) versus pin (a pointed piece of metal used to fasten things, or a piece of jewelry fastened to a garment with such a thing).
Though to be fair, though, in the last example one could have a pen (writing instrument) decorated with diamonds, though I expect it would be most uncomfortable to use. Another reason one must be careful in delineating exactly what one is talking about.
As the first sentence proves, depending on the usage of words and spelling a sentence can have a totally different meaning from what the writer intended or even become completely incomprehensible. No one should ever expect their reader to translate their work!
For example, I read not long ago about a character that was trying to describe a crime scene as ‘grizzly,’ which jerked me right out of the story. What on earth, I wondered, was a bear doing in there? I even looked back a few pages to see if I had missed the inclusion of an ursine character. Of course, it finally dawned on me that the writer was so disrespectful of her readers she didn’t bother to differentiate between ‘grizzly’ - a large brown bear native to North America - and ‘grisly’ - which describes something of horror or disgust.
Now some may say that I am being too pedantic, that such nicety of meaning is meaningless. Once on a romance critique eloop I made a suggestion after reading a sample that to make the book better the writer might wish to pay more attention to her grammar and word choice. I was astonished at the vituperation such a truthful - and practical! - comment engendered. One which I remember to this day castigated me as a bitter failed writer (I had published over 30 books at that particular moment in time) and that this (incorrect) writer’s emotion and honesty would touch more people than I ever could.
Well, maybe, but only if they could translate the writer’s gibberish into sensible prose. And they didn’t specify which emotion - heartfelt romantic resonance or disgust at such a mangling of the English language.
As writers our job is to communicate, and that can only be done when there is a common, understandable language. One of the difficulties in translating a work of either prose or poetry into another language is that of nuance; differing definitions render such a task impossible. On a less literary note, I can testify to this. For reasons I won’t go into now I read a Belgian newspaper daily; it is written in Dutch (it’s complicated) a language which I do not speak, so I use the automatic translator on the internet. The results are usually pretty good, but sometimes almost incomprehensible and others downright hilarious.
We shouldn’t have to face the same difficulties in our own language.
There are lists of words of homophones (sound alike but different meanings) and homonyms (spelled alike but with different meanings and pronunciations) and they are impressively long. I’m not suggesting we as writers should have to memorize them, but it would be better for our readers and for our own image as communicators if we at least learned to use the correct word with the correct meaning in the correct place.
After all, when we brooch a knew subject we don’t want to create a grizzly mess and brake our readers’ trust!