Words Have Meaning: Spoilers, Speculation and What-Not

You guys keep waiting for me to write about something other than Game of Thrones, but…no, that’s not happening. I rather enjoy being obsessed with Game of Thrones. I seem to function best when I’m obsessed with something.

We’ve heard who’s playing Sam Tarly’s family members. Of course we found out well before now that Ian McShane was not playing Randyll Tarly, but some people seem to have missed that and now everyone’s discussing, yet again, what Ian McShane’s role may be. I like the Elder Meribald role, but I don’t have a good argument against Howland Reed. Mostly, I just want to hear less about casting and more about what happens.

Which brings us to my latest annoyance, which is that Razor Harris at Winter is Coming calls his poorly argued speculation a SPOILER on Tommen. As a grammarian, I take offense at this flagrant abuse of the word SPOILER. It’s not a spoiler. It’s an idea that a fan has decided to share.

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Fun With Verb Tenses and Breaking Bread With the Lannisters

I might be a lot more annoyed over the Dorne subplot if I didn’t have Jaime and Doran to make me feel like my time wasn’t being wasted.

This is the part where I talk about what’s going on with Jaime. He has a good handle on the situation with Myrcella, but no idea of what’s happened in King’s Landing since he left.

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On the Difference Between Ability and Priority

Miri at Brute Reason has a guest post from CaitieCat, in which she asks us liberal heathens not to harp on spelling and grammar in place of meaning:

Particularly in a US context, where educational options are very strongly influenced by class (and race, in an intertwined manner), riding the xenophobes for misspelling ‘illegals’ as ‘illeagles’, or “Muslim” as “muslin”, what we’re saying is, “You should have been smart enough to get yourself born to the right kind of parents, who’d give you access to the best education, who were educated themselves enough to teach you ‘proper’ English, and who were rich enough to make sure you never had to work after school instead of studying!”

I agree with her position, up to a point. And it’s possibly hypocritical of me to even share her post at all, as I’m given to writing up entire blog posts just to tell people how to use better grammar, but here’s the thing: I’m a writer, and I hang out with other writers. I think writers should know how to spell. I think writers should know their punctuation and conditionals, or be actively trying to improve their skills. And I tend to focus on giving advice on how to do it right, rather than simply declaring, “You don’t know how to spell ‘socialist’, so your argument is invalid,” because I actually do have some awareness that learning the finer points of the English language takes more work for some people than others. I think being able to do things like keep homophones straight and use apostrophes appropriately is an end unto itself, if you’re going to make a habit of writing things which you expect large numbers of people to read.

So that’s where I diverge from CaitieCat’s position: I think writers should have a solid grip on the spelling of whatever language they’re using, and in the examples that I’ve pasted above, we know that these are errors some people make because we’ve seen them on protest signs.

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The Silkworm: “Ack! My eyes!”

Having read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling, I bought The Silkworm on Thursday morning and finished reading it late last night. It’s an interesting book to read, as a writer, because it’s all about publishing industry politics. Owen Quine, the missing man whom Cormoran Strike is hired to track down, is a mostly unsuccessful novelist who has been way more trouble than he’s worth to everyone who has to work with him. The characters who come in to bend Strike’s ear about what may or may not have happened to Quine are either the missing man’s wife, Leonora, who hired Strike in the first place, or they’re involved in publishing, whether traditional or indie.

One of the characters under investigation is Quine’s mistress, a self-publishing writer named Kathryn Kent, and at first, I was a bit annoyed at Galbraith/Rowling for how she portrayed Kent. My attitude was basically: “That’s how you choose to portray a self-publisher? Really? Some of us write decent books and use appropriate grammar, you know!” But then I realized that The Silkworm was full of characters involved in publishing, and they’re all assholes. If I were a traditionally published author, I wouldn’t want to be represented as Owen Quine or Michael Fancourt. If I were a publisher, I wouldn’t want to be seen as Daniel Chard or Christian Fisher. I sure hope most literary agents aren’t nearly as unpleasant as Liz Tassel. The only character in the publishing world of The Silkworm who is both good at his job and a mostly decent person is the editor, Jerry Waldegrave, who is also a drunken train wreck. It’s like, nobody can be a part of the literary world for long without being either a shameless opportunist, a predator, an egotistical bigot, or a self-destructive mess. We go through all these unsympathetic characters, and then Strike and his assistant, Robin, take us for a sit-down with Kathryn Kent, and she seems like one of the least offensive of the lot.

Overall, I think what bugs me the most about the portrayal of Kathryn Kent is that the book shows us her blog posts word for word, with all their apostrophe abuse, random capitalization and cringe-inducing typos. Sure, there are plenty of people in the real world who do even worse than that and still manage to write books, but do we really need to see that from a writer who knows better? And a professional editor working for a major publishing house? When I buy a book to read, I expect it to be a refuge from sloppy typing, your/you’re confusion and apostrophes in plurals.

The downside of being your own harshest critic

I do not mean self-esteem issues, or personal frustrations related to writing.

I refer to the inability to enjoy a book.

This is a problem that’s cropped up since I made the decision, in early 2011, to become a self-publisher, and especially since I went through the epic feat of self-flagellation that was revising my first novel according to an editor’s feedback.

I have to be very selective about the books I read, as many of them provoke the line-editing reaction: I’d like to lose myself in the story, except I keep wanting to open up a word processor and tighten up that prose. This goes especially, though not exclusively, for indie books. I struggled through a perfectly decent paranormal erotica by a very popular small-press author, and ultimately gave up before the end, because its sentences were not as polished and tight as they could’ve been.

I took an inordinately long time to read most of an indie urban fantasy novel, and still didn’t finish, for similar reasons. At the time I thought it was depression tripping me up, and depression may have been a factor, but my constantly spotting mistakes and other weaknesses in the prose was definitely a factor.

Since then, I’ve become far more likely to start a book that I don’t finish, and less likely to start reading a book in the first place. The hesitance to begin a new book has a lot to do with guilt over how slowly I’m progressing at my own writing and revising, but it’s also because so many of the books on my Kindle make me feel more like a detail-obsessed line-editor and less like a voracious reader.

All this is not to say that I think I’m a better writer than the authors of the books I don’t finish. For all I know, they develop more compelling plots and create more interesting characters with more meaningful relationships, but I can’t get caught up in the substance of these novels because I keep tripping over the ways in which the sentences could be better constructed.

Yesterday, I started reading three different indie novels which I’d snagged for free due to being friends with the authors on Goodreads, and couldn’t get more than two chapters into any of them. I’m still reading the fourth one, as it’s sufficiently well-edited to keep my Inner Editor quiet.

I’m not even referring, necessarily, to mistakes, though mistakes are often an issue in indie novels. I once tried to read an erotic romance but gave up after a few (otherwise very promising!) chapters because it so desperately demanded proofreading. There was an apostrophe used in a plural on the very first page of narrative, I tell you. The three books I opened yesterday didn’t show any mistakes that I could see, but I kept wanting to do things like remove unnecessary commas and adjust their verb tenses. Life is too short to struggle through books like that.

Punctuation is not a luxury.

This pair of messages just appeared in my OKC inbox, and…I’m honestly not quite sure what this guy is trying to say in the second message.

But...what?

But…what?

I won’t even bother with the wisdom of telling someone she reminds you of someone with whom you’ve already had a failed relationship.

The second message is a good example of the value of punctuation. There’s not a single mark in that sentence (sentences?) to show the relationships between phrases, and I’m having a genuinely difficult time sussing out what he’s trying to say.

Option 1: “It’s not surprising you’re single, as you’ve been on this site a long time.”

This is a negging attempt, and a tautology. Not attractive. It manages to be both obnoxious and pathetic at the same time.

Option 2: “It’s not surprising you’ve been on this site a long time, as you are single.”

Another tautology; a meaningless observation. Not negging, but still pathetic.

Option 3: “You have been on this site a long time without establishing a successful relationship due to some other personal failure on your part which I have neglected to describe.”

Still negging, still obnoxious and yet transparently stupid.

If he thinks I’m going to respond just to ask him to specify what exactly that unpunctuated sentence means, he is sorely mistaken.

Control freak insomniac thinks he’s a real catch.

The best way to show you’re totally ready for True Love is to set up a website in which you spend almost 1400 grammar-impaired words detailing what you must have in a potential partner. And you offer to pay someone to help you find this ideal woman. Yep, this guy’s totally gonna make some beautiful, well-employed yet sexually inexperienced girl very happy. Absolutely. (I will underline all his spelling/grammatical errors, just for fun.)

I am looking for a decent girl that wants to be in a long term monogamus relationship with me.

I want the girl to be attractive.

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change of pace if we saw someone say, “I want my girlfriend to be as unappealing as possible”? Doesn’t everyone want the girl to be attractive? Isn’t that a tautology, anyway? If you want someone, it’s because she’s attractive to you.

I like girls that are thin, or with a toned or athletic build. A average build is fine too, just as long as you are not over weight. I will not date a overweight or fat girl.

*looks at muffin top* Awww, am I not good enough for him?

I like girls that are 130 pounds or less. Of course weight needs to be in proportion to their height, as long as they aren’t considred overweight, they should be fine.

Being overweight is a total dealbreaker with me.

Inability to make proper use of the indefinite article is a dealbreaker for me.

I also like girls with long hair. I like a girl to look like a girl, not a man, I like a feminine, pretty girl. I like hair down to the shoulders at least. Sometimes I can make exceptions if it is shorter depending on how it looks on the girl. But for the most part, I love long hair.

ZZZZzzz *wakes up suddenly* I’m sorry, was he saying something?

Redheads are my favorite, next is Brunettes, and next is Blondes, in that order. I like all 3, but I’m just saying if I had to choose, that’s my order of preference.

Bleh. I don’t want to be a bearer of this guy’s favorite hair color. Thank goodness I chopped my mane down to pixie length recently.

I will not date a Black girl. I don’t care if she looks like Halle Berry, I will not ever date a Black girl.

However, I will date any other race, Hispanic, Mexican, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, European, White, whatever, anything except Black.

This is the part where black women everywhere sigh with relief!

I do not like glasses on a girl. Although, it’s not a dealbreaker, as long as she can wear contacts at least most of the time.

Dude can pry my big chunky Jill Stuart frames off my cold, dead face.

I do not ever want to have kids, so if a girl is wanting to have babies, I am not her man.

This is the most sensible thing he says in the whole list. The world does not need any more of his genes.

I will not date a girl that does not have a job or career.

I am not looking for any type of woman that is materialistic or a gold digger or expects a man to pay for everything.

He wants a woman who’s economically independent, yet totally under his control. Y’all watch this next one:

I do not like tattoos on a woman. If a woman already has tattoos, it may not be a deal breaker unless she plans to get more in the future. If a woman has something small and feminine like a butterfly or rose already on her ankle or something then it may not necessacerily be a dealbreaker. And it would also help if she would consider having them laser removed, something I might would even pay to have done for her.

YOU LIVE IN AMERICA, LEARN TO WRITE IN ENGLISH.

To me, tattoos just represent white trash or somone that’s been in prison. I do not care for following trends like mindless sheep and getting tats just because what ever Star on TV got them, they will always be a symbol of White Trash. The Female human body is the most beautiful work of Art God ever created, to tattoo it with ink is the same as vandalising a famous Monet painting with a can of spray paint!

Her body is the most beautiful work of Art (with a capital A), just as long as it’s not fat or black. And it’s never given birth. And she hasn’t ornamented it on her own terms.

I also do not like piercings on a woman. I do not like a woman to have anything pireced other than her Ears. If she has other piercings it’s not a dealbreaker as long as she removes them and never wears them again.

*yawn*

I do not like gamblers. I will not be in any relationship with a woman that gambles or wastes money on such things.

I do not like strippers! I will not date any girl that has ever been a stripper. I believe that the only person that should ever see a womans naked body is only her boyfriend or husband.

Dude, seriously? Not even the chicks in the locker room at the pool?

I will not date any girl that has ever had a threesome, or a large number of past sexual partners. I do not want a promiscuous slut, I want a normal, decent, good hearted girlfriend.

I will not date any guy who uses the word “slut” without irony.

I will not date any girl that can not always be honest & faithful to me. This is very important.

Honest, but will never criticize or disagree with him.

I prefer a girl that does not smoke, but as long as she does not smoke in my house or around me, if she can go outside and smoke, then I can live with that. I lived with my ex girlfriend for Eleven years, and she was a smoker.

Look, just say you want a non-smoker. Don’t bring your ex into it.

I will not date any girl if she is still friends with any men that she has been intimate with in the past, I believe once a relationship with someone is over, it’s OVER.

As evidenced by the way Mr. Sleepless in Austin keeps talking about his ex.

I will not date a selfish woman. I do not like selfish women at all.

I will not date a controlling, judgmental, shallow, unoriginal douche-nugget who can’t even run his long-winded laundry list through a spell-check, so that works out just fine.

I do not like sarcastic or cynical people, I do not like people that always think negatively either, so that type of girl would also not be a good match for me.

Sarcastic and cynical people tend not to have any patience for delusional nonsense. I can see how that would be a problem for him.

I know sometimes on my website here, I may seem like a negative person because I point out sooooo many things that I dislike, but I assure you I am a very positive person, I am just tring to put out here my likes/dislikes so you can know more about me and what type of girl may get along with me.

I do not expect a girl to agree with all of my beliefs or opinions etc, but I do not like to argue, and it’s very important that we can live in peace together if at some point the girl & I live together. I like to live in a quiet & peaceful environment. That is extremely important to me.

Just don’t say anything unless you know he agrees with it. Smile, nod and act like he’s your lord and master, but don’t expect him to pay for everything.

I like a girl that dresses on the conservative side. Not like a slut, and not anything weird. Just normal is fine. T-Shirt & Jeans are OK. But a girl in a dress really gets my heart racing! I also love it when a girl wears a mini skirt with boots, not cowboy boots, but sexy boots. Or high heels, I love spiked high heels!

Dresses on the conservative side, except for when she puts on a mini skirt and sexy boots or spiked heels to show off her non-overweight bod. Dude’s got some exclamation marks and he needs to put them to good use.

I like a girl that takes care of herself and keeps herself clean of course.

Something tells me this is code for “no body hair, ever.”

I love it when a girl wears sexy lingerie in the bedroom! Especially thigh highs!

You can order yourself a Real Doll, and specify that she have long red hair, no glasses, weigh no more than 130 pounds, and you can dress her in sexy lingerie and thigh-highs all day long. You’ll never have to worry about her getting a tattoo or piercing. I think that would solve a lot of your problems.

I need a girl that can be very warm & affectionate and loving.

It’s also nice if the girl has a big heart and appreciates simples things, and understands the value of sentimental things etc.

I like a girl that appreciates romance and the art of courtship.

Guys, if you have any 14-year-old sisters, hide them. I suspect this guy likes ’em young.

Kissing is one of my most favorite things to do with a girl, it’s very important. I also love to hold a girls hand when I am walking with her. And I love sleeping beside a girl and holding her close to me, and spooning with her. In fact THAT is the reason I named this website “Sleepless In Austin” because I haven’t had a single good nights sleep in years, ever since my relationship ended with my ex-girlfriend.

Oh, dear. He will demand that his girlfriend move in with him ASAP, and he’ll get all clingy and possessive if she ever tries to have an overnight without him.

And yes, I also liked the movie Sleepless in Seattle, haha :-D

It dosen’t matter at all to me how big or small a girls breasts are. I prefer them to be real & natural though. I am against breast implants, I see that as unnecessery self mutilation, and I would not want a girlfriend that has breast implants.

Is there such a thing as necessary self-mutilation?

I prefer a woman that has never had children, because having kids does ruin a womans body often times. They end up with stretch marks. And also sometimes it makes their vagina looser, and I don’t care how many kegel exercises a woman does, after she has 2 or 3 eight to ten pound babies, you can’t tell me it’s going to be 100% as tight as it ever was! Plus, what’s even worse than all of that, is sometimes during childbirth the lips/vulva of a woman get torn and they never look the same as the did originally even after they heal, that’s why some women even get cosmetic reconstructive surgery to their vulvas after childbirth to try and regain their original appearance.

Now I’m not saying having had a kid or two is a for sure dealbreaker for me, but it’s a case by case basis, and I prefer a woman that’s never had kids if possible. My ex-girlfriend that I was with for Eleven years never had kids, she couldn’t because of a hysterectomy at a young age.

That…is…a lot of word count to devote to why you must have a woman with no obstetrical history. It’s also a very intimate, unnecessary fact to divulge about your ex. It’s a great way to show us how shallow you are, though, in case your aversion to non-skinny bodies wasn’t signal enough. Did you forget the part where you rail on about the evils of sagging tits?

I like to get a lot of attention in a relationship, and I like to give it as well.

I also have a very high sex drive.

I guess that’s why the girl must have a super-tight pussy?

Since you like sex so much, I’ll give you a hint: short hair doesn’t get in the way!

 

The squishy area between bad grammar and good writing.

Someone dangled this shiny thing in front of my nose today: 7 bogus grammar “errors” you don’t need to worry about.

This is sensible advice for those who (for example) hang out with crazed grammar pedants who actually think the passive voice has no place in respectable writing. I mean, I’m a psychotic prescriptivist, but I don’t understand how otherwise healthy adults can get in screaming matches over possessive pronouns. If you’re forced into frequent contact with people who do not recognize the boundary between formal and colloquial, then this sort of article should be a comfort. Whereas if you are one of those people engaged in screaming matches over possession, you probably won’t be impressed.

All that said, I would like to attach a caveat to Mr. Yagoda’s sensible advice: there is a large gray area between “bad grammar” and what we usually identify as “good writing.” It is possible to write badly without mangling the English language. Most of the items on Yagoda’s list fall into that gray area.

Sometimes, a sentence demands a split infinitive or else it looks ridiculous. Most times, however, the adverb can be placed outside of the infinitive and the sentence flows much better. If you’re writing dialogue, a split infinitive is what seems most natural. If you’re writing narrative or persuasive prose, try to keep the infinitives intact.

The issue of sentences that end in prepositions is even more fraught. The difference between English and Latin is phrasal verbs. Ask for, hear of, settle down on, and put up with are all phrasal verbs, and using them often results in sentences that end with prepositions. In casual speech, you’re not going to plan out the sentence in your head so that all the small, weak words are politely tucked into the middle of the sentence. When you’re writing formal prose, go for the “to whom” and “to which” constructions. Sentences look better if they end with words that convey ideas in their own right.

My favorite item on the list is surely the one about using the passive voice. There have been times when someone told me the passive voice is bad writing, and I quickly decided against accepting writing advice from said individuals. We wouldn’t have developed the passive voice if we didn’t sometimes need to use it. Sometimes, we need to talk about something that happened when we don’t know who was responsible. On those occasions, the passive voice is not just acceptable but essential. When it is possible to write in the active voice without twisting the sentences into pretzel shapes, use the active voice. When the person who made the thing happen is unknown, use the passive voice and don’t apologize.

 

Why do I care about spelling and grammar? Let me show you some examples.

Buzzfeed shows us The 20 Most Unforgivable Spelling Mistakes of the Year gleaned from Twitter, and there are some real gems on that list. It is because of errors like these that I give grammar advice and tear at my hair over spelling mistakes. This is why grammar nerds exist and why we want you to be aware of when you’ve spelled, punctuated or conjugated something incorrectly and how to do it correctly in the future. It’s because we want to prevent you from becoming one of those typists. It’s because we want you to communicate clearly.

To communicate clearly, you need to be aware of how a spelling error can change the whole meaning of a sentence, and usually not for the better. Some errors merely make the user look sloppy or uninformed, but some actually render the message incomprehensible. For clear communication, one should know the difference between COLON and COLOGNE. One should know that OVERREACT is a single word and OVARY has no place in that sentence. If you put EAGLE where you want EGO, I might not catch your meaning. If you’re going to use the expression “time heals all wounds,” you should know what it means, and if you don’t know the difference between WOUND and WOMB, you probably don’t understand the expression.

If you think there is an O in GENIUS, you are not a genius at anything that involves language. If you think there is an A in COLLEGE, you will not do very well in a lot of college courses.

If you have Internet access, you can find an online dictionary, which will show you that SILHOUETTE is not two words. Yes, I see that it’s a tricky word. If you can’t remember whether it’s one word or two, try using SHADOW instead. In this case, the meaning is close enough. I know that AMBIANCE is also difficult, so if you’ve never seen the word in writing, try using ATMOSPHERE to get the same meaning across. You might misspell atmosphere, too, but you’ll probably get the first letter right, and that will make the sentence much clearer.

Look up VICARIOUS in the dictionary. Now, look up BI-CURIOUS. Not synonymous, are they?

If you can type HIPPOCRATES with perfect spelling, you should know that a HYPOCRITE is something else.

Yes, I am aware that English is a non-phonetic, idiom-heavy language full of exceptions that only weirdos like me ever manage to learn. Except, actually? No, I won’t take the excuse that English is so incredibly hard. I’ve learned and spoken Spanish and Albanian, and let me tell you: there is a lot of shit that we English-speakers don’t need to worry about. We hardly conjugate our verbs at all, our plurals are nearly effortless, we don’t adjust our adjectives for number or gender, and in fact our nouns are all gender-neutral. If you don’t need to worry about hitting the right form of the imperfect tense for an irregular verb, or how to decline a masculine plural noun in the accusative case, you should know the difference between ORGASM and ORGANISM before you try to use either word in a sentence.

Grammar Reference: Frequently misspelled words

I’m working on making up some grammar guide ebooks to hand out for free, and I’m trying to get my notes organized. Since there’s no plot to be spoiled, and language learning is good all the time, I don’t see a problem with putting this up on the blog ahead of time. This is mostly for my benefit. Here is a list of words that people frequently misspell; I’m trying to force some order onto it.

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