Saturday, November 14, 2009

LITERARY LAPSES 101, Part 1


Okay. This has been weighing on my mind for quite some time now, and I just can't take it any more! Hardly anyone reads my blogs, I know, but I've got to let it out even if no one else sees it or benefits from it. What is this? The murder of the English language being carried out in published books and blogs that are written by people who consider themselves some sort of experts. The language is dying a slow death, but it seems to have sped up in recent years as people seem to be less and less aware that words really DO have meaning!


I know that everyone makes typographical errors; in fact, I am one of the worst for that because my fingers are terribly clumsy. Anyone who blogs or writes something for others to read should proofread before sending it, or publishing it, of course, but it's easy to miss things. After all, I know what I meant to write, so I may not notice a wrongly typed letter or two, and spellcheck doesn't always catch it.


But I'm not talking about typos. This isn't about email, chats, or dialog, either. Dialog should be conversational, so the non-standard English is fine. The problem is in blogs and, worse yet, articles and stories that are published. Not the dialog and conversational parts, but in narration. The narrative needs to adhere to the rules of accepted standard English or we don't communicate as well as we should. And as Christians, we are told, "whatsoever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men." (Col. 3:23) Yet so much of what is done in the name of Christ is just so-so, not our best, and non-believers don't expect anything Christian to be much good.


In the last two weeks, I read two books, already published, that look as if no one did any editing to them at all. If someone edited these two books, they didn't earn their pay.


So I'm going to try some weekly lessons on common goofs that I have seen in books, articles, professional blogs, and even the news! Today I'm picking on three error I have seen way too often.


1. THEN/THAN


This so messed up! THEN refers to time, the opposite of now. I went to the bank, and then I went to the mall. THAN is a word for comparison. This is more than enough. I like coffee more than tea. Your brother is nicer than mine.


Probably everyone reading this will agree and wonder why I even mentioned it, but I see it over and over again in blogs, articles, and even in the published novel I just read. The mistake is usually using then instead of than. I think most of the problems could be solved if the writer just thinks about what he or she already knows when proofing the writing.


2. LOOSE/LOSE


This is one I have seen in four or five published novels in the past year--something I wouldn't have imagined before. It has appeared in lots of other writing as well.


LOOSE can mean to set free when used as a verb; in its more common use as an adjective, it means something that is not tight. A loose pair of pants might fall off. A loose woman or loose morals has to do with a tendency to be immoral. Loose rhymes with goose, moose, and noose. A goose on the loose needs to be caught. A loose noose might mean that the guy getting hung will live another day and even slip out.


LOSE, on the other hand, is pronounced with a -z- sound. None of the words spelled like it--at least none that I can think of--sound like it. Perhaps part of the confusion in spelling is because it rhymes with choose. Lose is the opposite of find or gain. I want to lose weight. Lose the attitude, mister. John knew that if he told Mary the truth, he would lose her forever.


Some of the sentences I read made humorous confusions (samples are not exact quotes):

-He had to loose that detective and fast. Is the detective bound and needs to be set free, or is he hot on the trail?

-Go on; let her loose. Is she chained up or in handcuffs, or does it looks like her gambling isn't going to pay off?


Other times it just doesn't make sense, but I was seriously confused sometimes and had to backtrack in my reading.


3. SNUCK/SNEAKED


Snuck might be used commonly in everyday speech, but according to the dictionaries and grammar guides I consulted, it is NOT the accepted standard past tense for SNEAK (There was one exception that called it acceptable as an alternative in American English ). Now this is one mistake I started slipping into myself; when we hear and read something often enough, it starts to confuse the inner editor. That's why I looked it up several times now.

They like to sneak up on their dad when he's sleeping. But when they sneaked up on him this morning, they scared him.


When you write dialog or conversation, feel free to use snuck or brung or swang. If it fits your character, that is. In another lesson, I'll get into some other past tense puzzlers.

2 comments:

Laura Davis said...

Cathi, thanks for the grammar lesson! I hope my book wasn't one of the books you read. I had that thing proofread and edited 3 times by different people before it went into print.

Also, I think you are wrong about people not reading your blog. I'm sure many do and benefit from your words of wisdom!

cathikin said...

Laura, I can honestly say that I didn't pick up on any problems like these in your book. You were very wise to have different people comb through your work though; new eyes see what others miss.