Archive for grammar

On Using “Big” Words in “Little” Books

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on May 27, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

While I was signing at Auntie’s Bookstore this weekend, a lady came up to me with a unique compliment. She said she liked that I used “malicious” in my title, since it is a fun word to say, and it’s important for children to learn big words. Not a few minutes later I heard from a man who’s opinion was entirely the opposite. “Why,” he asked with more confusion than offense in his tone, “would you use a word kids don’t even know?”

That got me to thinking, and now I’m writing a blog on it! Gotta love technology, eh?

Suffice to say I am in agreement with the lady. To the man I would (and did in fact) ask, “how else are they going to learn the word”?

Here’s another relevant question I was asked at the same signing: “did you do a lot of spelling bees as a kid?” My answer surprised the lady: “No,” I said, “I only ever did one spelling bee, and I lost badly. I was a terrible speller as a kid.” The look on her face spoke volumes. It screamed, “how can a professional writer be a bad speller?”

And therein lies the crux (heh) of my argument.

Though I learned the basic building blocks of spelling in school, the vast majority of my current grammar and spelling prowess came from

Writing.

Writing. All the time. At some point, as I played around with my own worlds, stories and adventures, the ability to spell and use proper grammar emerged. My learning was entirely hands-on.

The exact same thing happened with my vocabulary, only it wasn’t writing that taught me, but reading.

To this day there are words I can easily use in-context which I have no idea how to pronounce. “Copse” is one such word, for example. That’s because I only know of these words from the books that used them. And these weren’t schoolbooks, they were fiction — fantasy, sci-fi, and other fun stories that I fell in love with, written by authors who didn’t worry about whether or not their readers would understand every word they used. Most of the time it was easy to guess the definitions, anyway as they were used in-context. For the ones that weren’t, I looked them up. Either way, bingo, I learned a new word! And these words meant more to me than any on a vocabulary list, because they had described something I cared about: a character, a world, an action that mattered. In mattering, those words stuck in my memory.

Do all of my young readers know what “malicious” means? Well, maybe they didn’t before they read the book, but chances are they do now. Book 2 is titled The Counterfeit Zombies of Noc. My young fans will learn that word too — along with many others inside the book — all while enjoying a good story that will stir their imaginations and excite their spirits.

That, to me, is worth its weight in gold-lined royalties.

“Big” words don’t have to be intimidating. If you use them, they will be learned. My six-year-old has a larger vocabulary than many adults I know, because we have used “big” words around her since she was born. From “mouse” to “malcontent”, all words have a definition that can be learned and used.

For fun, here is a list of “big” words I have used in my kids’ books along with a very simplified definition of each:

  • Malicious – Evil
  • Shoddy – Sloppy
  • Atrocious – Horrible
  • Counterfeit – Fake
  • Advantageous – Lucky
  • Ethereal – Not Solid
  • Duress – In Danger
  • Tow-head – Blonde
  • Martyr – Person Who Died Doing Something Heroic
  • Sentient –  Self-Aware
  • Tarn – Slimy, Wet Place
  • Cacophonous – Loud
  • Dias – A Low Stage
  • Malcontent – Unhappy
  • Crux – Important
  • Woebegone – Sad
  • Insidious – Evil in a Smart Way

Those aren’t all of them, but you get the idea. These aren’t words children are usually taught, nor are they words that most adults use in everyday life. The fear of not using them — that’s what makes them intimidating. And that intimidation is what leads to no one– kids or adults — ever learning new words at all. So how will they ever be learned if not in stories? Don’t be afraid to challenge your young readers. Someday, they may thank you for it.

And, in this world of netspeak and reality television, we as writers may very well be the last bastion of hope for the continuation of  exquisite soliloquy amongst our species.

On Being a Grammar Defender

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on March 23, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I hate the term “Grammar Nazi”.

This is not because I am offended by the insinuation that I care about grammar. That’s actually quite a compliment. No, it’s because it offends me to be at all affiliated with Nazis.

At. All.

Can’t we use a better term? Personally, I like Grammar Defender far better. Or is that too positive for you? I know, I know. “Grammar Nazi” is supposed to be an insult, right? And I even know why.

People don’t like being corrected.

We Grammar Defenders are the internet’s red pens, and most people don’t like red pens. Some of us are Sharpie markers while others act more like a tiny paintbrush, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all an insult to the one being corrected, no matter how softly that correction may be handled.

I’ll fill you in on a little secret — when I say nobody likes being corrected, I mean nobody. That includes us Grammar Defenders.

For example, another thing I hate is math. I mean, I despise it. I loathe it even. Math and I haven’t seen eye-to-eye since I was halfway up a six’s bump. I’ve been corrected in my math many times before (usually by my otherwise loving husband), and I hate it. It makes me feel like a moron.

In other words, I understand.

No, really. I do.

So why do I still insist on correcting grammar online? After all, it not only hurts feelings, but who cares if a few people can’t use the correct form of “their”? What difference does it really make in my life? If anything, it just gives me less competition in the writing world.

Right?

I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately. This blog is my way of working it all out.

First of all, I feel the need to set the record straight. I do not correct everyone about every little thing. I think that’s asinine for more than a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I, myself, have been known to mess up my grammar from time to time. Also, typos don’t count at all; nobody can be faulted for an accident. I don’t correct friends either. Well, not unless I’m playing with them anyway, and usually they’re fellow Grammar Defenders who understand the joke. I’m not in the game of losing friends over trifles. The few times when they’re not Grammar Defenders, I’m correcting an image they posted, not their own writing. Lastly, this isn’t about people for whom English is a second language. It’s hard enough for native speakers to learn, so I’m certainly understanding to those who didn’t grow up with it. (And sadly, some of those people compose English better than most natives anyway. Oi.)

Still, this doesn’t answer why I correct anyone at all. There are really two answers to that particular question. The first one is simple. The second, not so much.

Simply put, I correct because lazy grammar is a big, fat, stinky, lemon-crème-filled pet peeve of mine. It drives me up the wall and back down again. Now, before you tell me that I have issues (I’m already quite aware of this fact anyway), let me explain again that this rage is not triggered by the occasional missing period or misspelled word. These things happen. Whatever. But when I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say, it gets a little tiresome. Here are some examples of what drives me insane (these are real posts from Facebook; I have changed nothing):

“family s im4tant 2 all of us specially in our children”

Um… wait. What? What is “im4tant”? Is that imfourtant? What is..? Oh. It’s supposed to be “important”. Got it. Maybe a typo? I can accept that. But using numbers as words is never acceptable. The word is “to”. That is all. And what exactly, is “in our children?” Family? I don’t want anyone in my children, not even family. Who actually speaks like this? Does anyone actually read what they write out loud? Ever?

“wat is this pose to mean????? we all came from the safrm a place in yhis world ”

Where do I begin? The misspellings I can live with. After all, some people can’t spell very well, just like I can’t divide very well. Whatever. But all those question marks make me want to punch my screen. Why do you need more than one question mark? It’s grammatically incorrect in the first place — you are only supposed to use one endmark per sentence — and in the second place, it’s ugly. Why clutter up your attempt at communication with meaningless redundancies? We know it’s a question with the use of ONE question mark, and the English language has over  9,500 durative words to choose from in describing your anger. Using that many question marks instead shows an utter lack of creativity, not to mention laziness. Also, what does “pose” mean in that context, anyway? Last I checked, “pose” was a verb meaning to make something or someone look a certain way, like for a portrait or to gain millions of dollars pretending to be an investment banker. Yet this person clearly means “supposed”, which is an entirely different word. Why use a word that doesn’t even mean what you want to say? Added to this, the two typos — “safrm” and “yhis” — are just two more nails in the coffin of this person’s point.

Okay, that’s enough ranting. I’m sure you get it now. Every time I see someone write like this, all these things and more go through my head automatically. It drives me to distraction.

But as I said, there is another reason I correct grammar online. The reason is this — communication is vitally important to understanding, which is vitally important to peace and goodwill among people.

Yup. You heard it here. I am a Grammar Defender because I am a Peace Defender.

Now, call me crazy, but I assume that people post online in order to be heard. They want their thoughts, opinions and insights to be read, understood, and replied to. But if we don’t all follow the same rules about language, how can that happen with any kind of productivity? If I was in a conversation with these two people and they typed to me like that, I would be very confused. Now, I can translate. The two sentences above say “Family is important to all of us, especially our children” and “What is this supposed to mean? We all come from the same place in this world”. But why put people through that every time you want to talk to them? All that does is create confusion at first, and frustration and / or annoyance later. Neither of these is productive to communication. So by typing like this, they’re completely mooting the point. They want people to know their stance, but all people really know is that they’re confusing and annoying.

For now I can still translate, even if it is annoying. Most people can, of course. But if we keep following our own writing rules — rules that nobody else knows — how much longer will it be before we literally can’t understand each-other at all? We all have the same grammar rules for a reason. People can’t read each-other’s minds. This attitude of “everyone should accommodate me and my own way of doing things” is asinine, and it is also the attitude behind the use of the term “Grammar Nazi”.

I want to understand you. I want you to understand me. Let’s type in the same language so this is possible, please?

If you find any mistakes in this, by all means let me know so I can fix them. I’m only human too, but I CAN edit. 😉

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