Welcome Wednesday guests for October:
10/01 Finding Sky author, Susan O'Brien;
10/08 Award-winning Hank Phillippi Ryan (Truth Be Told);
10/15 Indie authors Polly Iyer (Backlash) and Ellis Vidler (Prime Target);
10/22 Murder by the Month author, Jess Lourey;
10/29 Marilyn Levinson, Golden Age of Mystery Book Club Mystery author.

Gloria Alden's latest publication is nonfiction. Boys Will Be Boys: The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys. Edited by Cher'ley Grogg was recently released and available on Amazon. Gloria wrote three essays and two poems in her chapter included in the book.

Don't miss this month's release of Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays on October 7th, in which WWK bloggers Shari Randall ("Disco Donna") and E. B. Davis ("Compromised Circumstances") have short stories.

KM Rockwood's
short stories will appear in two anthologies released in October. They are: "The Lure of the Owl" in Swamp Mansion and Other Dark Stories, to be released as a ebook, and "Aunt Olga and the Werewolf" will be included in the third Creatures, Crimes and Creativity anthology release by Intrigue Publishing. at their conference in October.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Words and Phrases That Make My Teeth Ache

Each of us overuses certain words in our speech or writing. We have traits we learned as a tyke or adopted later in life that help define who we are. They are as much a part of us as our hair style. In other words, we can change these word patterns if we choose, but it takes effort.

When I listen to people converse, I react to incorrect usage such as “Me and him went to the mall and…” the same way other people respond to chalk squeaks: it hurts so much I cringe. Of course it seems like only yesterday that I remember my grandparents yelling at the TV, “Winston tastes good AS a cigarette should.”

Language changes, but we tend to stick with those verbal mannerisms we learned growing up. To the careful listener these verbal tics come through regardless of later veneers. I don’t mean to say we don’t add new flourishes or that our vocabulary is frozen. (Although I’d be willing to bet it doesn’t grow much after schooling stops.)

I once sat on a barstool next to an expert in speech patterns. After talking with me for a while, he announced I had grown up in Upstate New York, lived a short time in the northern South (Virginia or North Carolina, say) and currently lived in the northeast New Jersey. Good thing I didn’t bet him. I grew up in the Rochester, NY area, spent second and third grades in Blacksburg, Virginia and was then living in Bergen County, New Jersey—it’s most northeastern county.

When I go back to Rochester, they talk with an accent highlighted by nasal a’s. My father has a tape of me drawling the Cub Scout pledge in third grade. In Bergen County, they do funny things with their r’s. I don’t know how this guy could be so accurate because I don’t sound like any of those places—but I guess to a trained ear, I do.

What is the value of listening for these telltale words, phrases or accents? Skillful writers drop them as verbal clues to characterization. I love it when an author grounds me with these little details.

Laura Lippman sets her novels in Baltimore (which native speakers pronounce as though there were no second syllable ) and has her characters say things like, “Joe was police before he passed the bar exam.” Not “Joe worked for the police,” or “Joe was a policeman.” In that region, Joe was police.

If I wanted to show a stuffy, erudite pundit, I’d have him sound like the late William F. Buckley, Jr. (although I’d need a thesaurus to do it). Low education: small vocabulary and improper grammar (no thesaurus necessary, but my teeth may ache). In one of my novels I have a minor character who never swears or uses contractions. No sh—I mean, no kidding.

How about you? Any examples from books you’ve read recently or works you’ve written?

~ Jim

3 comments:

E. B. Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. B. Davis said...

Actually Jim, it’s the lack of colloquialness that I've found. Like the spread of Outback Steak House, Denny's, Office Depot, etc. writers seem to homogenize language. I'm guilty too. One thing I try to do, is abbreviate words the way people do talk, cutting off the first or last syllable. I'll also change where I place commas, even if incorrect, if it makes the sentence pause in the manner a character sounds in my head. My pet peeve doesn't occur in books, but personally, when people pronounce Elaine, A-lane. Southerners seem to do this more than others.
One of my questions is, if my character swears, will I get pulled from a cozy category on the shelf to another? Marketing plays a role in the language we use in our scripts. A sad but relevant fact.

Ramona said...

I love that "Joe was police" line. Those three words say a lot about the character, the setting and the writer.

Good stuff to think about, Jim.

I don't mean to be a troublemaker, but I think A-lane is kind of cute. Of course, I am from the South.