Pet Peeves: Words Mean Things

In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya famously tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

A lot of people have pet words. Groups of people have pet words, too. If you follow the news, you’ll see it. As one commentator repeatedly has noted through the years, the media will pick a word, and every broadcaster will use it in every broadcast about the story. The word “gravitas” comes to mind from the 2000 election, used to describe George W. Bush’s selection of Richard Cheney as his running mate.

One word that I’ve seen thrown around a lot lately is derivitives of the suffix “-phobic”. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of phobic is:

of, relating to, or having an extremely strong fear or dislike of someone or something

Dictionary.com further defines phobia as:

a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

The key word in that definition I’d like to glom onto is “irrational”. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you have an irrational fear of it.

There are many things I don’t like.

  • I don’t like shopping (except for yarn, books, and fabric.) 
  • I don’t like crowds (ironically, ochlophobia, the fear of crowds, is today’s Dictionary.com word of the day.)
  • I don’t like murderers, people who abuse their power, people who abuse children or animals, or people who cheat on their spouses.
  • I REALLY don’t like the TSA. This one came forth when I was in Seattle with my son for his bone marrow transplant. I refused to fly back from Seattle with my son because it sent me into a tizzy, nearly to a nervous breakdown every time I thought about having to go through security, alone with my son, and all of his medicines and medical gear. 

Okay, I may be a bit TSA-phobic.

But, I’m not ochlophobic or phobic of shopping. I will go out in crowds. I don’t enjoy it, and with having a post-BMT child, I’m reaching for my hand sanitizer often and keeping a lookout for people coughing or sneezing.

Being a writer, I understand the difference. So, I’m beginning to get offended by how often people throw around phobias willy-nilly. If I don’t agree with you on something, I must be phobic of it. Nope. Not irrationally afraid of it, I just don’t agree.

Yet, certain groups of people want to accuse other groups of people of phobias just because we disagree!

THIS is how we have the breakdown of our language, when we allow words meanings to be weakened by improper usage. We as writers and speakers of the English language (and I’m sure this happens in other languages, too) need to stand up and protest this. When you’re in a conversation with your friend and they laugh and say, “I’m so agoraphobic. I can barely bring myself to drink water!”, drill down with them, and get them to see that they don’t have an irrational fear of water, they just prefer to drink something else. (Especially use this if you know they love to swim and get a shower every day.)

We as writers should take the time to educate those around us. Otherwise, they’ll still be stumbling around in the dark, repeating the same drivel they’ve improperly learned. Only by proper education (and maybe a few bashings over the head with an unabridged dictionary) can we retake our unique language.

Until next time…

If you haven’t had an opportunity yet, please go pick up a copy of my short story, CSI Effect, over at Amazon. Please take 30 minutes to read it, and if you can, take the time to post a review! Thanks so much! — LS

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Pet Peeves: Yea vs Yeah

Photo by ~Seizen at DeviantArt.

This has been bugging me for a while.

So, today, I’m going to bring you one of my biggest pet peeves, educate you a little, and see whether you share the same pet peeve, or if it’s something else.

I see the terms ‘yea’ and ‘yeah’ used interchangeably ALL THE TIME. It drives me up the wall. Their definitions are similar, but not the same, and for me, there is a difference. There’s definitely a difference in pronunciation. Since when I’m reading I “hear” the words, this can drive me nuts: on Twitter, on FB posts, in an IM conversation like Skype…

Yea” is an older term. It’s used a lot in formal voting situations, like in Congress. In the political meetings I go to, we typically use the form “aye” but that’s neither here nor there. It’s pronounced like “yay” and can also be used in place of “hurray” or other similar words.

Yeah” is also a form of yes, but it’s more a slang term. You say “yeah” when you’re in agreement. “Yeah, I’m coming.” “Yeah, I agree with you.” It’s pronounced more like “yah“.

See, a little letter “h” can make a huge difference!

So, next time you’re writing, whether a conversation in a book, a FB post, or a text message to your mom, try to get this one little thing right.

And educate others whom you see misusing these words. Without some education, we’re going to lose our unique language!

Until next time,

Keep an Eye on the Stupid Things

Through the experience of submitting work to agents/editors and having work submitted to me as a free-lance and PYP editor (and from having a friend/crit partner/mentor who knows all), I’ve learned some interesting points. Most of them you can find on any good blog or website, but few folks write about the “stupid things” that can trip you up.

Linda Yezak

I’m not going to say that these things can keep your manuscript from being accepted, but by the time your masterpiece hits the submission trail it should be spit-shine perfect. It should reflect not just your writing abilities, but also your professionalism. Finding too many of these unprofessional “stupid things” in someone’s piece can tip the scales of whether I will accept the work or not–and I’m just a newbie with few submissions. Can you imagine what it’s like for a seasoned pro with hundreds of submissions a week?

So, after you’ve perfected all the major stuff that makes up a great novel and before you pray over your piece and send it out, check for some of the stupid things:

Chapter Headings–make sure they’re uniform all the way through. That includes having them on  same place on the page. If you type Chapter One on line sixteen, then all the chapters should be on line sixteen, too. If you type Chapter 1 on the first page, don’t have Chapter Thirty on page 385. If you have chapter titles, don’t have chapter one’s title Like This and chapter thirty’s title Like this. Uniform location, type, capitalization and font all the way through.

Numbers–in general, these should be spelled out. Of course, there are exceptions. No one expects you to type out seven hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred thousand fifty-three. I’m not even sure how to do it. Where do the commas go?

Generally, numbers under 101 should be spelled out. Different style manuals have different rules, so consult the manual preferred by the agent/publisher you’re submitting to. (Port Yonder Press prefers The Chicago Manual of Style, the heavy hitter of most publishing companies, while many Christian publishers prefer The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. One or both of these should be on every writer’s desk–or at least a copy of Polishing the “PUGS” by Kathy Ide, which hits the high points of most major style manuals including Chicago and Christian Writer’s.)

Contemporary Jargon–until the powers that be recognize “alright,” it’s not all right to use. Spell it out in its two-word form. “Okay” is different. Sometimes it’s okay to use OK, but usually the preference is to spell it out. Again, check your style manual and the preference of the folks you’re submitting to.

Holy Pronouns–if you write Christian fiction and refer to our Savior and Lord, decide early whether you’re going to capitalize Him and stick with it. And not just “Him,” but You and His also. Jesus shouldn’t be the Messiah in one place and the messiah in another, Savior here and savior there. Check your manual; be consistent.

Only–this word can be an adverb, adjective or conjunction, but the placement can change a sentence’s meaning entirely. Watch how you’re using it; make sure you’re modifying the word you intend to modify.

Using the example I found on Dictionary.com (“I cook only on weekends”), I’ll show you the difference in meaning with different placements of  “only.”

    Only I cook on weekends (no one else cooks on weekends).
    I only cook on weekends (I don’t do anything else but cook).
    I cook only on weekends (I don’t cook during the week).

Punctuation–this is a biggie. I’m going to assume you know how to punctuate a sentence, so let’s get to some of the annoying things.

Overuse–ellipses and dashes can be overused so easily, and when they are, they lose their effectiveness. In dialogue, ellipses are used when a thought tapers off, and dashes are used to illustrate an interruption. In prose, dashes are used to set off a thought, idea or something that would otherwise be parenthetical. Exclamation points should rarely be used. They illustrate shouting, anger, excitement, but overuse dilutes their power.

Quotation Marks–unless you use italics, full quotes should be used around “things” you want to set apart in your sentence in prose. Not partial ‘quotes’ but the “real deal.” Also, periods and commas go inside the quote. Other punctuation has different rules depending on whether they’re part of the quote or speaker’s dialogue. While we’re at it, keep an eye out for open quotes: In dialogue or any time you use quotation marks, be sure you close the quotes.

Apostrophe Direction–this is the one few ever pay attention to. I never did, until I read about it in one publisher’s submission instructions. This is obviously somebody’s pet peeve, and can be one of the stupid things that’ll trip you up. But I seriously doubt it’ll prevent acceptance.

You use the apostrophe when you’re leaving out a letter in a word or making a contraction, and usually it’s faced in the right direction. But when you’re omitting the first letter, the apostrophe is faced in the wrong direction. It’s a pain, but it’s not too difficult to change ‘nough said to ’nough said. Just type ‘’ together and delete the first one. Okay, okay, I know. Petty, picky, peevish. But now that you’ve read this, I bet it’ll drive you nuts too.

This micro-proof reading should be the last thing you do before you pray over your work so all the corrections you’ve made will be checked, too.

Good luck!

Linda Yezak is a two-time finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Contest as well as a two-time judge in the contest and a judge for smaller competitions. She has been published in Christian Romance Magazine and her review of Riven by Jerry Jenkins was published on the Tyndale website for the book (under the “Reviews” tab). Linda writes blog posts for several sites including AuthorCulture, 777 Peppermint Place, PeevishPenman and VibrantNation. Her first novel, Give the Lady a Ride is currently being considered for publication. She is an editor for Port Yonder Press, a small, traditional publishing company, and a free-lance editor.

Thanks so much for sharing your pet peeves, Linda! Apostrophe direction drives me insane, too, so I shut off “curly quotes” in Word when I’m writing–it keeps the direction neutral!

And for you, my delightful reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this respite with our guest bloggers. I’ll be back two weeks from now with a fun little post before I get back to the important business of harder-hitting posts. Thanks for your support and readership during these few months as my family and I have adjusted to having another child in the house!

Until next time,