Friday, March 28, 2008

The Word Goes Out

If this is Friday, this must be Paris. And I must be Charles.

Debby, you are so right. (If you haven’t, skip down and read her post. I’ll wait here till you get back.)

You’d think that authors that crank out 80,000+ word novels would have these few down, but we don’t. Well, me anyway. That lay/lie thing gets me every time. While writing Noble Lies my loving editor pointed out that I did not know (or refused to accept) that there is a difference between blond and blonde. Not that I ever figured it out, but fortunately Rose did, and the right words were used. Debby notes that she has noticed authors misusing the word reticent. The rule that I use when it comes to this word is easily remembered – find a different word. This rule applies equally well to most words that I have trouble remembering the correct usage and I believe this will work equally well for you.

What I want is for everybody to agree on some new words to fill some much needed gaps in the language. Rich Hall made a semi-career out of creating ‘sniglets’, but most were for obscure little things that, if a word did exist, it would be considered jargon. What we need is agreement on a few words that everyone encounters, every day.

#1 on my list isn’t a word but an exception to a rule that would allow us to use an already existing word. Here is a grammatically incorrect sentence that will illustrate the need:

When a man or a woman buys a house, they need to get a loan.

I’m sure you see the problem – I should say ‘he or she needs to get a loan’ – and this is one we struggle with every day. Not getting a loan (although that may be a problem, too) but using that awkward, rhythm killing, clunky and all proper ‘he or she’. Rich Hall might suggest we adopt ‘heorshe’ to fill that need, but that’s worse than the problem it was coined to correct. Besides, when people create a word to fill a need it seldom get’s picked up for general use. No, what we need is for everyone to agree that, yes, grammatically it is wrong, logically it’s wrong, but it’s okay anyway.

Accepting a logical/grammatical error as accurate is already done in English. There isn’t a logical/grammatical reason why ain’t shouldn’t be used – the rules themselves are not logical – but you can’t. So I say what’s good for the contraction is good for the pronoun, and we just let the logic and correctness slide.

#2 would be a word for the noise we make when we suck air through our teeth with one tongue-stop click at the end. Everybody does it, but nobody knows what you call it. In Trinidad it’s called ‘chupps’ and god help the kid that chupps when his or her parent tells him or her to clean his or her room (see why we need #1?). It’s not clicking your tongue, it’s, well, sucking air through your teeth with one tongue-stop click at the end.

It’s interesting to note that we have words for the noises we make with our nose (sniffle, snort, sniff) but we lack words for non-word noises we make with out mouth. We have the slang term ‘raspberry’, also known as a Bronx Cheer, for that noise we make when we stick our tongue between our lips and blow, but that’s not a common term and I bet many folks, while they have heard/made the sound, have never heard either term. Who knows, in Canada it may be called the Winnipeg Cheer, or, more likely, an American Hello. And what about the noise we make when we blow air through loose lips, a’la a fake snore or bad imitation of a horse’s whinny. You’re making that noise right now, aren’t you? Fun, yes, but what is it called?

The more I think about it, the more I am amazed that we can communicate at all.

1 comment:

NL Gassert said...

Oh, I loved your post. I always thought I was an idiot for not being able to figure out the words that go with all those noises we make. No wonder I can’t find them, there aren’t any! I guess I have to stick to “groan” and “grunt” and such.