Wednesday, February 17, 2010
While I can't recall Tim's rant about "hopefully" and "nauseous," I do know his rant about "glance." I remember this one because I frequently misused it. The funny thing was, I knew what glance meant. Even when I used it incorrectly. But I still did it. However, after Tim's reminder, I thought perhaps I ought to start using "glance" as it is supposed to be used and finding other ways of either eliminating other words like "look" or finding alternate things to do.
So what's the deal with glance?
If you go back and look up the definition of glance, you'll find that it is NOT the same thing as look. A glance is fast. It is brief. You can only glean so many details and bits of information when you glance at something. If you glance at your mom, sure you might notice that her shirt is red, but you're not going to be able to see the fine lines around her eyes or what type of fabric the shirt is made of. Yet in writing, people (myself included at one point in time) often use glance the same as they would look. A character glances at another character and mentions so many details, it is impossible that they would have noticed so much had they truly glanced at that character.
I'd like to add that a glance over the shoulder will tell you even less. Glance over your shoulder right now and see what you can really distinguish. When I do it, I can see that there's a door behind me and that there is snow on the ground outside. You simply don't see very well unless you actually turn your body a little. That doesn't mean you have to mention your character turning (God forbid - look out for stage directions!) or something like that, but whenever characters glance over their shoulders, they often see sad looks on other character's faces and so forth when you wouldn't unless you had eyes like Superman.
So it's just something to remember when writing that your character glanced at so-and-so. Make it a real glance, not a look. And another thing to keep in mind; pay attention to how much looking your characters do. Chances are, if someone is talking, readers will automatically assume the character will look at the speaker without the writer mentioning it. This actually makes me want to talk about stage directions, but I think that's enough for now.
I see you...(because I'm not glancing)
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Now, I realize that most (or all) of you won't have any idea of who Tim is. I really ought to put up a post about Seton Hill since I often refer to it but never fully explain what it is. I'll make a note of that. Until then, Tim teaches there, offering up his tidbits of wisdom and showing many of us the joys of weaponry, fortifications, and what we really ought to keep out of our novels and writing work in general. He's got some of the best ideas I've heard in....well, since I started writing, actually. There are several items Tim takes issue with; smiling, nodding, moon phases in fantasy worlds, stage directions, and the grimace (a word I think I've only used once in my entire writing career...if you can call it a career anyway).
But today I'd like to share with you one of Tim's posts on the Seton Hill message board concerning one particular word: prodigal.
It's true that glance is horribly misused, and used more commonly. And there're nauseous and hopefully as major rivals. But it would be hard to equal the percentage of misuse this word gets.
The word is so commonly misused, that the best strategy for a writer is never to use it. The audience won't know what you mean by it, so what's the point?
It means spendthrift. It does NOT mean went away for a while.
The reason that most people don't know the correct meaning is that they run across this word in just two confusing contexts: the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the expression "the Prodigal returns."
In the parable the elder son takes his inheritance in cash, goes away from home, and BLOWS IT ALL. It's the blowing the money that makes him prodigal. He returns because he's flat broke. The phrase is a reference to this event in the parable: the return and the father killing the best herd animal to greet him, despite his being a spendthrift.
This reader/copyeditor is sick to death of people using this word incorrectly. He would also like to protect his friends, colleagues and students from appearing to be culturally ignorant, not to mention semi-illiterate, hence this brief note.
It is true that one dictionary company has decided to enshrine American ignorance by accepting the incorrect definition, based on common misuse. It is also true that ignorance is one of the engines of linguistic change. That does not mean, this writer feels, that embracing ignorance is a virtue. He treats that idea with scorn; spurns it with his heel; and shakes from his sandals the dust of any city which accepts it.
Here endeth the rant.
Personally, I only feel a little stupid. I've never used the word "prodigal" in any of my writings, so I've never had the chance to misuse it. However, I thought it meant something completely different from both of these (wrong and right) definitions.
At least now I know better.
I also miss my access to the OED online.
"Oh father, I've returned! ...Can I get another $200?"