A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Which Banana’s What, and Other Tragedies of Modern Communication

by Janis Patterson

All right, I admit it. I spend far too much time on Facebook – partially to keep up with friends/family, partially to see what’s going on in the world and what other people think about it (rightly or not), and partially with a sick curiosity to see how some people have mangled the language. The latter I watch with a horrified fascination, as one would an inevitable train wreck.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly well-educated person. I don’t have a college degree. High school was little more than an unpleasant endurance contest. There are literary and cultural references that go right over my head. Math – well, we just won’t talk about that. But – compared to some of the people on FB, people whom you think would know better, I find myself to be a most learned person even if I couldn’t tell you what a past progressive or a pluperfect anything is if one bit me on the ankle.

I know everyone makes an occasional typo, especially when writing in the grip of some strong emotion. However - ! The odd ‘wierd’ for ‘weird’ or even ‘wired’ or something like that is hardly remarkable or even especially noticeable. Some of the words, however, are so egregiously misspelt that even sounding them out doesn’t give any clue as to their meaning, which may or may not be interpreted by context.

Sadly this phenomenon is growing through the popular world rather than decreasing, which is shameful. We make education available – at no charge to them – to every child, kindergarten to high school. There are educational shows on educational/public broadcasting that deal with all kinds of studies. Almost any information is available on the internet. There are libraries, for Heaven’s sake, just chock full of books on the English language. Community colleges and even universities now have to have remedial English courses – both continuing education and for credit. There is absolutely no reason in the world for people to be so bad in their usage of English.

Unless, that is, they don’t want to change, and really don’t care about how ignorant and low-rent they appear to the world. Unfortunately, this disregard of proper usage is spreading, not shrinking, and has now infected the literary world. I realize that the Typo Gremlin is alive and well and appears at least one or two times in just about every book published. One would have to be a complete tartar to find that unacceptable. (Which it should be, but hey – this is reality we’re dealing with!) What really is unacceptable is when a plethora of typos, misspellings and other egregious mistakes run rampant through a book, sometimes several to a page. There used to be a belief that these errors were solely the province of self-published books (some people say ‘trash’), but in my own and others’ experience traditionally-published books are running almost neck and neck if not outstripping many self-published books in errors accrued.

It affects our real lives, too. I have taken to carrying a big black Sharpie with me to correct the egregious misuse of apostrophes, and even began a semi-humorous group called the American Association Against Apostrophe Abuse. What is painful is when you find someone creating an error (such as Banana’s – 50 cents a pound) and ask them which banana’s what only to have them stare at you without having the slightest clue as to what you’re talking about. I have been known to cry in such situations.

So how does this affect writers? I know that even if they do know proper grammar, spelling and syntax, most people don’t speak in perfect English using only complete, diagramable sentences. So – how can we make our people sound real while still staying within nodding distance of correct grammar?

Like my betters, I will take refuge in ambivalence. I believe the prose part of your book should be as grammatically correct as possible, but if the words go between quote marks (or as a first-person direct thought) they can be anything as long as they fit the character. The last is the most important part – you can’t have a dowager duchess talking like a field hand, or a street-wise ghetto kid talking like an English professor. At least, not without a plain and viable plot reason!

In real life… I don’t know. I hate to see the language degrading almost before our eyes. But languages change, some people say. Nothing remains static. I agree with that – to a point. Change is evolution, a process over time – not immediate conscienceless mangling.

One final thought - perhaps if we really got serious about wanting to have people look through grammar books, maybe we should hide a Pokémon in some of them.


Paul McDermott said...

*rubs hands together gleefully, sharpens a regimental rank of red pencils in preparation*
"Deo gratias, non solo ego" ["Thank God I am not alone"] :)

I am a founder member of the Grammar Nazi party & Punctuation Politzei. Welcome to my Club!!

You are sooo right to be annoyed/upset/irate/FURIOUS about such matters. As you say yourself, 99 times in every 100 the direct cause of this phenomenon is the Perp's inexcusable laziness. Rules are there for a PURPOSE. They are not "for the observance of fools and the guidance of the wise" (credited to British Army officer Harry Day).

I've always felt 'comfortable' with Grammar & Spelling rules - I actually ENJOY Proofreading [does that make me some sort of masochist? I don't think so!]

What really annoyed me personally was when my debut novel was published (a childrens' book) I had sent a GUARANTEED 100% error-free MS to the publisher. The 'galley print' came back to me less than a week before the intended publication day and it was RIDDLED with spelling mistakes which had been INSERTED - they were NOT the sort of mistake I would EVER make myself, and I'm not just talking about Typos.

♫ "Yes, we have no banana's ... ♫ I'm with you on this one!

Earl Staggs said...

Right on and well-said, Janis. I see these mistakes in news articles from some of the best-known journalists. I hear them in movies and TV shows. I cringe when I do. I also hear them every day when I transport children to and from school. "Can I have a pencil?" "Me and her are having a play day." I've tried correcting them, but all I get is a blank stare and if they say anything, it's, "Everybody talks like that." In their world, everyone does. All we can do is grin and "bare" it. And cringe.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I tell myself that language - especially the English language - is like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up new flakes - some flakier than others - all the time. And I confess that I often have to refresh myself on the rules. Still, I find myself reaching for a pencil and correcting what I'm reading because I can't read on unless I do.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your article. My grammatical pet peeve (not that I don't have plenty of peeves) is the use of George and I for George and me by writers who really should know better. It is so easy to get right if you just make the effort.

Janice Seagraves said...

You're not alone. I cringe when I see mistakes in traditional published books.

Sally Carpenter said...

I wonder how well grammar is taught in schools, if at all. I heard of kids graduating from high school barely able to read and write. What did they do for 12 years? Sentence diagraming wasn't taught when I was in school; for today's visually dependent generation, that might work to "see" how language works. Also, texting has killed spelling. With the current emphasis on STEM classes, I think language skills are going to be ignored for a while.

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