If you’ve been in a writer’s support group for any length of time, you’ve certainly seen it before. It’s an evergreen discussion that makes a pass every year or so. When a professional association has covered all the topics they can think of—Saying No to a Mentor Request, Keeping Social Media from Eating Your Time, How to Have a Book Signing that Doesn’t Look as Though it Occurred Post-Rapture, there eventually comes a lull in which no one can think of a fresh and original topic to pose to the group. So we pull out that good ol’ standby—Grammar and Spelling Pet Peeves. These are words which–if misspelled or misused–will send a usually stout-hearted editor into a quivering literary swoon. Announcing such a topic is a siren call. It’s like the ice cream truck tune of the writing world; it brings everyone running. We gleefully fly to our keyboards, our mental pockets stuffed with dangling participles, contractions that shouldn’t be contracted, and the horror that is the “vulgar singular they” (best delivered with the affectation of English Royalty).
Our pockets soon begin to empty as we showcase our favorites of the misused, abused, and confused of writing errors. Lead instead of led. Its instead of it’s. Less versus fewer. And let us not forget the useless and hapless apostrophe seen with so many CDs, DVDs, Dos and Don’ts. Everyone has a favorite peeve and we share with gusto. (Feel the confetti flutter by your head)
Then we get to the fun of misspelled word crimes.
The police poured over the evidence looking for the culprit, which unfortunately would give them no new insight, but would make for a very messy crime scene.
I turned my paper into my professor. Imagine his surprise. But he’ll thank me later when he notes the ample margin I’ve provided, which as we all know is essential to a balanced and enjoyable life.
She excepted Christ as her savior when she was 9. Her poor parents were horrified to learn that while little Petunia was open to all other gods, she had strangely ruled out Christ at such a young and impressionable age.
I have yet another set of words that can annoy me. These are not words that are misused, but rather which, even when properly used, seem poorly designed. Some words just don’t sound at all like the things they’ve come to mean. I have tried my whole life to grow comfortable with the word “pithy” as meaning “brief, substantive, powerfully expressed.” But all efforts to the contrary, I continue to feel I’m listening to someone with a speech impediment who’s in a really foul mood.
“Bucolic” is another word that instantly goes in the wrong direction. Instead of thinking of lovely farm scenery, I think bucolic, alcoholic, diastolic, metabolic, even vitriolic. You can’t take a word like colic, made up of nasty sharp consonants, and believe you’ve rendered it lovely, peaceful, and rural just by throwing a byoo at the front. If that works, then saying you byoosgust me should be a sign of extreme endearment.
The truth is I love words. But I also love the people who are doing their best to express a new thought or idea by using them, even if they don’t always do so perfectly. So I feel the sting, right along with them, of the language sometimes used in pointing out their errors.
Things like. . .
“I’m so annoyed by. . .”
“I find it unforgivable that. . .”
“It makes my ears bleed to hear. . .”
It strikes me a tad on the haughty side. Certainly there was once a day, many years ago, when each of these purveyors of perfectly used English also had to learn to use led instead of lead. But rather than feeling some sympathy for the person still making these mistakes, they now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to cast literary impropriety stones. They’ll tell us that these folks should be ashamed for not learning their craft before venturing forth. The problem of course is that one often doesn’t know what one doesn’t know until one has ventured forth. I also know that every one of these critics has looked at their own work—work that passed before a minimum of fourteen pairs of eyes before finally making it to print, and always they find something that slipped by them.
I think it’s okay, even important, to point out errors and encourage improvement. But as we each grow in our craft, I hope we also can recall that one word that never annoys, that flows perfectly off the tongue, that has a beautiful lyrical sound when spoken, which perfectly matches the beauty in its meaning. Grace. Ah, may we see and hear (and dispense) more of it. And if that doesn’t suit, I think byoosgust is still up for grabs.