Tag Archives: language

Do you loath or do you loathe

A writer wants, no needs, no Must, get the right word for the right meaning. And many words can easily finds their way into a sentence where they do not belong. Loath, for instance, means unwilling or reluctant, as in “I am loath to go to Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” Loathe, on the other hand means to dislike greatly or abhor, as in,  “I loathe to go to a Seattle Seahawk game and watch them self destruct once again in the fourth quarter.” 

As you can see, sometimes different words can  have the same meaning at times. I can loath and loathe at the same time for the same reason.

But there are more problem words. Let’s try again. Illegible and unreadable are not the same thing. Illegible means the document can not be read because the handwriting is so poor it is undecipherable. Unreadable can’t be read because what was written is not interesting, or incomprehensible, that it makes no sense, even though you can read the words.

The other day I was bugged with the ‘which word is it’ problem when I wanted to write the word that means the origin of words. But I typed ‘entomology’ and that is the study of insects. It drove me buggy because I could not think of the correct word-it is etymology. You can see how easy it is to confuse those two words. Those words are troublesome, but not as bad as capitol or capital.

But words do not have to sound similar, as illegible and unreadable indicate. If you think humorous and comical mean the same, sorry, they have different meanings. I will let you research those words and I will quiz you later.

I bring all this up as another example of proofreading problems. It is more than spelling, more than grammar, more than punctuation. It is also, and arguably more important, to get the right word with the right meaning in the right sentence. You might be legible in your writing, but if you confuse the reader too much you become unreadable. I hope this blog is not confusing you.

I will leave with the problem of ‘is and are.’ Is means singular as in he is, she is, or it is. Are is plural as in ‘we are’. However, when the subject is elusive, it is the authors discretion to use either word. In other words, two times three IS six and two times three ARE six are both correct.

I don’t know how I can learn a foreign language when I am still trying to figure out English.

My legible website

My hopefully readable e-books at Amazon

 

 

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The truth about snot and why you will like it

What is snot?

Snot is the burned part of the candle wick. Snotty candles would nicely illuminate supper in a cosh.

What is a cosh?

A cosh is a small hut or cottage to retire to after doing your daily darg.

What is darg?

Darg is a days work.

What you have just read comes from-what a reviewer most likely would say- is a delightful little book. The book is “Poplollies and Bellibones” subtitled “A celebration of Lost Words.” It was written by Susan Kelz Sperling and published by Penguin in 1977. It is for those who love words, history, culture, and etymology. It is not a big thick reference book coming in at 113 pages. Thus the word delightful, or charming, or fun; take your pick.

It has fun words like squiddle-to waste time with idle talk -something I trust I am not doing at the moment. But there are also a couple of words like floccinaucinihilipilfication, a word that I doubt any person of that time would use, unless said person was an ancestor of William F. Buckley, a known sesquipedalian who never met a long word he disliked, nor a short word he liked. You will find sesquipedalian in your dictionary, but not that long word which means the habit of belittling.

Most of the words in the book come from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and though these words may now be dead, like Japanese soldiers found in caves years after World War 2 who had no idea the war was over, there may be isolated pockets where these words may still be in use, though the odds of that are slim to none.

Beyond the fun of the book is something else. It shows how over centuries language changes. I remember in college having to read Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in its original 14th century English. Pronunciation was like trying to speak a foreign language; understanding the writing made more difficult. Seven centuries later you can see how new words arise replacing certain words for too many reasons to cover in a blog.  Consider it is changing even today. A tweet comes not from a bird, but from an account. A selfie is now a picture portrait. Language changes by many means; technology, culture,  slang, are just three methods.

I am not sure the book I mentioned is in print anymore. On Amazon you find a listing of editions that are being offered as new and used, but I think the links are to sellers and not to Amazon itself. But I will leave you with an ancient activity called ‘flapdragon,’ the fun sport of catching raisins in bowls of flaming brandy or drinking the brandy without getting burned as a tribute to one’s mistress. Even bar drinking games have changed.

My website

My amazon page, where books are written with mostly modern language with some flapperese thrown in on “Loonies in Hollywood

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What’s up with piffle anyway

When I wrote my first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugout”  the word piffle came out of the mouth of Eveleen Sullivan. It was a serendipitous writing moment. By that, I mean, it was an automatic response her character gave to something someone said. At the time I had no idea of the origin of the word, nor what it meant, nor even if it was a word. I just liked the sound of it and I liked the idea of it being a character signature for Eveleen. So she  said it at appropriate moments-for her of course, I had nothing to do with it. I may be a writer, but I will not put words in characters mouths. They think and talk for themselves you know.

She also used the word in my second e-novel, based on the true story of the unsolved murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 called  “Loonies in Hollywood.” I knew of a website devoted to groupies, aficionados, or whatever devoted follows of a famous murder can be called, so I read through their conversations and found them talking about my book. One of them said, “what is up with piffle anyway.”

What indeed?

In truth I had no idea how the word came out of my head-or into Eveleen’s mouth. I must have heard the word at some time, or read it somewhere, and it just lodged deep in my memory bank waiting for a withdrawal. Then it just popped out while writing. It is one of the joys of writing.

So I did some research. Apparently it came into use about 1890. It was  slang , origin unknown, to describe words or ideas that are false or silly. According to American Heritage Dictionary: To talk act in a foolish, feeble, or futile way. Nonsense-noun.

And nonsense is what Eveleen meant when she said piffle. She was reacting to something that she thought was nonsense. A jazz age term would be applesauce. One can also say balderdash, bull, claptrap, fiddle-faddle, flapdoodle, hogwash, horsefeathers, humbug (Scrooge), malarkey, poppycock, rubbish, tommyrot, twaddle, among other fun and colorful words.

Eveleen will continue to say piffle and I love her for it. It is who she is, besides being smart, funny, and adorable.

And that’s what’s up with piffle.

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Watch your language in historical novels.

When my generation was growing up parents instructed us to watch our language or we would have our mouths watched out with soap. I rarely watched my language, however, my mouth was soap free. I don’t know what a soapy mouth would have tasted like, but it would not have cleaned up my language.

I write fiction. My first e-novel is set in 1911, the second in 1922, and the one I am working on is set in 1927. Now I must watch my language with vigilance, taking nothing for granted. I won’t wash out my mouth if I make a mistake, but I will whack myself in the head.

I am not talking about foul language but about words we take for granted, words that may not have been used in the historical era in which the story is set. For example, my main character is a writer for movies. I knew in 1922 with silent movies there was not really a script, but a continuity scenario. With no dialogue the only thing to truly write was the title cards.

But with the transition to sound in 1927 with the “Jazz Singer” requiring more detailed scripts full of dialogue should I use the word “screenwriter?” Despite the success of “Jazz Singer” which had only four scenes of improvised dialogue by Al Jolson, silent movies were still made for a few years. The transition to “talkies” was not instantaneous.

In the early chapters of my work in progress I used the word “screenplay” six times. My mind was in the present historical age using a word I have used a thousand times in writing film reviews for ten years, reading the word a thousand times and speaking it another thousand times.

That is why as a writer once must never assume certain words we take for granted were used in the era you are writing in. Honestly the word “screenplay” was an easy one to correct. It came out in proofreading. But other words one must research like you research everything for your story. So when in doubt Google a word, searching for its usage, when it came into the language, learn everything about it so it is used correctly for that era. And don’t be surprised if you find out that in 17th century England no one watched television.

http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38

 

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Books a writer should have at hand

Besides a dictionary and thesaurus, there are many books a writer can avail himself of.

On the shelf at my computer desk are: “Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions,”  “Which Word When,” “All about Words,” and “Fowler’s Modern English Usage.” The titles are self explanatory. Not only do they clarify all those questions you have about words and grammar, they tell you things you never knew-and should know. Your writing will be better for it.

And don’t forget “The Elements of Style” and Aristotle’s “Poetics.” They are both thin and take up little room.

Carl Jung’s “Man And His Symbols” and Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” to give your fiction deep underlying meaning that impress critics. They love metaphoric symbolism; in fact that is all they like. 

“Games People Play” by Eric Berne is great for creating characters. You can read and understand what and why certain types do what they do. It will make your characters come alive with realism.

Richard Mitchell’s “The Gift of Fire,” just because.

“The Elements of Editing” by Arthur Plotnik. Mostly for Journalists, but you can learn a lot from it.

The classic “The Art of Creative Writing” by Lajos Egri  and “Writing the Natural Way” by Gabriele Lusser Rico  for clustering, image, metaphor, creative tension, and other fun things.

A book on character naming is also a must.

It also helps to have “A Whack on the Side of the Head” to get your juices flowing.

Keep in mind I said these are books you should have on your shelf near where you write. You need not read them, in fact it is best to find used copies that have been well thumbed through. When your friends come over they will be impressed by the seriousness you are taking towards your writing. And making a good impression is what counts.

I have had these books since my college days at Princeton with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He wasn’t impressed. He didn’t need them. I do. And if you’re not F. Scott Fitzgerald-and you’re not-then you should consider these books. They can fill your shelf.

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