Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A little hashed phrase to go with the word salad...

Anchors away for our next topic!

Um, no, not really. "Aweigh" is correct, however. This hint goes well with the word salad post from last week. See, the English language is a hair-rippingly funny beast. The bastardized, red-headed step-child of many different languages, it causes quite a bit of confusion. And that's just for those of us who grew up natively speaking it! Imagine the frustration of those learning it as a second language!

For all intensive purposes, it's silly to make the language the escape goat when it's the people abusing it...

(*grin* Yes, there are two mangles in that previous sentence.)

Some people could care less... NERTZ! I mean, they COULDN'T care less if they misuse words and phrases. But let's face it, writers should appear to have a better than average grasp on their BIGGEST TOOL...

*Get yer minds out of da gutter!*

I mean WORDS. Words are your biggest tool. You'd run screaming if you caught your surgeon cleaning under his fingernails with the scalpel he was about to use on you, right? Okay, a little extreme, I know, but shouldn't writers take care to use their tools properly? This also applies to editors.

Another problem with these mangled phrases, a problem many writers fail to recognize, is the cliche factor. They've been used, abused, misused, recycled, rode hard and put away wet - you get the picture. It's time to stop using them as an easy crutch. This doesn't mean going ga-ga for making up your own unknown cliche replacements or avoiding them in all circumstances. It means using your tools effectively.

It's easy to say a character is "madder than a wet hen." It's also cliched to hell and back.

How about if you say something like:

"I hate you!" She threw down her dishtowel and yanked the kitchen door open so hard it flew against the wall before bouncing back into her.


That paints an accurate and even slightly funny picture, depending on what else follows.

Yet another reason to know your words well - malaproprisms. (No, a little blue pill won't cure you of those.) "I resemble that remark." God love Curly Howard, that's one of my favorite quotes of all times. Tony Soprano spouted quite a few in his day, as did Archie Bunker.

Don't get me wrong, well-used, intentional malaprops can be hysterically funny, especially if delivered dead-pan. But unintentional use can leave you looking like...well, one of our recent former presidents.

Ninety percent of writing is, after all, half mental. (Apologies to Yogi Bera.)

Befriend your tools, get to know them well. This is another reason it is so important for writers to have reliable critique partners or beta readers to look over their work, another set of eyes to help them nail these little boogers and remove them from a manuscript.

Here are a few helpful resouces for you:

http://www.all-about-spelling.com/list-of-homophones.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophone
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malapropism
http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html
http://matthom.com/archive/2008/02/19/commonly-misused-phrases-and-cliches
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_commonly_misused_English_words

Stay tuned for our next writing how-to topic!

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