Tag Archives: language

Murder by Contract(ion)

Imagine my surprise when one of the detectives on the new TV show Murder in the First (TNT) realizes that a suicide note is a fraud based on an unusual use of an apostrophe! Punctuation meets Prime Time!

apostrophej

 

Noticing that “shouldn’t’ve” (as in “I shouldn’t’ve killed that girl…”) in the supposed typed confession was—coincidentally—exactly the same as in a workplace email communique, the ace detective (as in A+ in English!) researches the statistical commonality of the double contraction … checking with UC Berkeley’s linguistics department (a nice plug for my own alma mater!) and voila! a killer is identified. (In case you’re interested, according to what the detective told the suspect, only 1 in 800,000 use this particular double apostrophe.)

Enough of DNA matches, fingerprint comparisons, text message threads, bloody footprint trails. This is true detective gumjwork. Which gives me an idea; rather than referring to myself as an editor, I think I will now consider myself a grammar gumshoe.

 

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It’s a Dangerous Job …

Now you know when I say I’m getting a new piece … or working on a magazine , I mean of the Smith and Wesson kind. A big thanks to the clever writing at the ONION.

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

(New York) Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style.

“At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbook gang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.”

Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

For the original ONION story:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/4-copy-editors-killed-in-ongoing-ap-style-chicago,30806/

(Photo courtesy of Arvind Grover

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Say “ah”

Though I’m dialed into correct grammar, punctuation, etc. in their written form, I am also sensitive to correct grammar and pronunciation in the spoken word.

So imagine my disappointment when I tuned into one of the new “hot” shows on television — Murder in the First — only to hear not one, but two characters (a judge and a criminal defense attorney) refer to the Burning Man Festival in Nev-ah-da, not Nevada.

murderinthefirst-b-800x450Granted, I’m probably more aware of this faux pas because of having   lived in the silver state for many years, but still, doesn’t anyone do their homework?

Irritating.

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Of golems and jinnies

A benefit (or challenge) of being in a book club is that book selections are not always ones that I would choose, though they are often ones that I am glad to have read.

golemSuch is the case with The Golem and the Jinni. A story filled with fantasy, yet steeped in religion and reality. I was expecting to be entertained by a cast of wizards and mythical creatures (definitely not my thing), but instead, I was mesmerized by Helene Wecker’s ability to blend Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction, and mysticism into a compelling and unconventional love story.

While at first I had no clue what a golem was (a being created from stone or clay, according to Jewish lore), and had no interest in jinnies (otherwise known as genies … from the iconic magic lamp),  barely into the story, I actually forgot that these two main characters were not real; that is, human.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Too often I get fixated on fact and refuse to let my imagination run free; too willing to stay within my comfort zone. The Golem and the Jinni was definitely a departure for me … almost like taking a little vacation from reality, from myself. It was a lot of fun.

 

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So Much For That

In between editing jobs, I try to reward myself by reading just for fun. And how rewarding it is when I get to rediscover one of my favorite authors!

Several years ago I read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was riveting, heart-stopping, gut-wrenching… you name it. It took me a long time to stop thinking about this book and then even longer to think I could read another Shriver work, or really, that she could write something else that I would love as much.

so muchBut she has. I won’t entertain (or bore) you with a middle school book report of So Much for That; the story’s summary can be easily accessed at any of your online retailers. I can say that it is rich with sensitive topics and deeply personal issues—though Shriver refuses to wallow in any of them—as well as larger, more global concerns that she skillfully weaves into the background.

Her characters felt real, relatable; their dialogue sounded natural; their lives seemed believable. I could see what was coming but couldn’t stop it, no matter how much I wanted things to turn out differently.

It was a painful read, but one that transfixed me; in the author’s own words, “a black but improbably jubilant novel about illness, death, and money.” Once again, Shriver has encouraged her readers (well, me) to wonder: what would I do?

One thing I know I will do is read another Shriver novel.

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Shut the Front Door

Choosing a title for your literary masterpiece is not easy. That is, choosing the best title … the right title is not easy. How do you capture the emotion, the theme, the personality of your work in just a few words?

Think of your manuscript in terms of real estate: like selling your house, you want to sell your manuscript. And like any real estate agent will tell you, it’s all about curb appeal. That means you need to create a welcoming, inviting entrance to your “home.”

Your title becomes your front door. Just as a plain, hollow door does not encourage potential buyers, unimaginative titles might not grab the attention of potential readers. Conversely, verbose, meandering, cumbersome titles can be intimidating, like having a drawbridge and gates at your home’s entrance.

door1That’s not to say a blatantly obvious title—like a solid wood front door—can’t be appealing. Robin Cook has made a name for himself with one-word titles: Brain, Coma, Contagion, Fever, Toxin, to name a few. Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People is about … well, let’s just say it does involve a funeral home. Or that a brazenly outrageous title (think purple door) like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics won’t attract readers. They both got my attention.

Yet before you settle on a title that you think is just right—not too short, not too long—do a little googling, Goldilocks! Check out Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other online bookstores. Since titles are not protected by copyright laws, it’s perfectly legal to use one that’s already been taken (unless it qualifies for trademark protection, like blockbusters Twilight, Harry Potter, for example), but why not be unique? With almost 300,000 books published (2012 statistics – not including ebooks), it makes sense to do anything and everything possible to open that door. Your door.

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As You Were

Working through several manuscripts, I began to notice a trend, a common phrase or “word set” that really didn’t help the writing. The actual sentences and character names have been changed to protect the identity of the authors.

110519-N-EA192-063“I will never forget what happened,” Joanna said as she lightly touched the scar on her neck.

“I can’t walk another step,” Susan added as she waved frantically for a cab.

“Time for me to get ready for work,” David complained as he got up from the couch. 

Are the sentence grammatically incorrect? No. But are they exciting? No again. So what if we just tweak ’em a little bit …

“I will never forget what happened,” Joanna said, lightly touching the scar on her neck.

“I can’t walk another step!” Susan waved frantically for a cab.

“Time for me to get ready for work,” David complained, pushing himself up from the couch. 

I really haven’t changed much, but the sentences are more lively, less passive. Don’t you think? I challenge you to look through your own work and see just how many “she said as she” phrases are used. You might be surprised.

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