#WordUse Series:
The Soda / Pop Conundrum

My siblings and I talk like Midwesterners, although none of us live there (or have ever lived there). Our mother was a Midwesterner: born and raised in Chicago. Daddy was also a Midwesterner, born/raised in St. Louis, although he had Southern roots: his mother was born/raised in Tennessee, as were her people, while his father’s people were South Carolinians all the way back to the 1600s.

This Southern thread manifested itself in the way we were allowed to call our parents’ friends names like Miss Diane and Colonel Frank or Uncle Bill and Aunt Elaine, rather than the more traditional Mr. and Mrs. Ours was a household in which “C’mon in this house!” was a lifestyle straight out of my father’s Southern upbringing in the heart of the Midwest. (His speech, however, was unadulterated Midwest. Witness the way he prounced his home state of Missouri, which came out Mizz-ooo-ruh.)

My father was in the air force; over time our family lived in various places all over the country. We kids met and played with kids from other places who were in our situation. So I was exposed to regional differences in speech (among other things) at an early age. Oh yes, accents are fun. I can tell Illinois from Missouri, Wisconsin from Michigan, Tennessee from Georgia, North Carolina from South Carolina (no mean feat). But my parents were essentially Midwesterners, and we all sounded like that.

Until we moved to California when I was seven (and where I stayed through school). I pretty quickly became a California girl (far out, man), but those family vacations “home” to Illinois, where I had a multitude of cousins, were a great source of material to feed my budding interest in regionalism—both accents and words. In Yorkville everything was wouldacouldashoulda, things my mother, the amateur linguist, had painstakingly trained out of us. (We said ed-you-cation, not ed-joo-cation. And we by God said yes, not yeah.) Most interesting to us kids, my cousins called carbonated drinks pop—it sounded like pahp—whereas we called them soda. (I was delighted to stumble on this pop/soda map awhile back; you can imagine my joy. However, it doesn’t cover the designation soda pop, which my father used. In the South, of course, the point is moot. We drink Coke.)

Words are just as interesting as accents, I think. Some years ago a friend of mine moved from Tennessee to Michigan and followed up with this report:

“People almost never say you’re welcome up here. Synonyms include sureyou betyou betcha, and no problem. All four responses really mean you’re welcome, but on a deeper level no problem means you are welcome, although it was a bit of a pain for me. I’m not kidding.”

I thought of this when I stumbled on an interview with Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners, who says, “Don’t say no problem unless an actual problem has been averted. It’s false modesty.” (Your Editor makes a mental note to stop saying no problem.)

Now I’ve lived in the South for … well, a long time. When I go “home” to California, my friends giggle and say I have a southern accent. Here in Tennessee, I often get asked where I’m from. If you want to know where you’re from—or where your accent says you’re from—you can take this little test. Me? I’m from “the Midlands.”

Tol’ ya!

Tweet: I am a Woman Without a Region. I talk like a Midwesterner, but never lived there.
Tweet: Regional words are just as interesting as regional accents.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , ,

#WordUse Series:
Words I Never Want to See in Your Novel. Please.

When I get to the end of an edit, I generally make a list of the author’s “favorite” words and phrases—words he or she used over and over without realizing it. It’s quite instructive.

Usually they are words like so and well used at the beginning of sentences of dialogue. Often it’s amazing (and you know how I feel about that!). Smirk shows up a lot too. Recently a manuscript I worked on had dialogue littered with you and I both know and listen as a way to begin a sentence (Listen, Sam, you and I both know the president will never approve that death squad).

You can’t hide much from your editor, my friends. We’re like hairdressers. :)

But in the spirit of self-improvement, let’s talk about some words and phrases I really wish you wouldn’t use, because I am, frankly, tired of reading them. It’s good for you to know these things now. Honest.

• I couldn’t help but … (notice, think, wonder)
This phrase shows up in many variations, and all of them are unoriginal and empty. Stop it. Just say, “I noticed …”

• Truth be known
Aside from the fact it’s way overused, it’s awkward. If you really must use it, it should properly be If the truth were known. Don’t tell me it’s your voice. Please.

• Suddenly
The hallmark of an inexperienced writer. Think about it: everything in fiction (in life!) happens suddenly. One second it wasn’t happening … and then it was. Suddenly.

• Blurt out
You remember my post on dialogue tags, right? I’m already not crazy about blurt for that reason, but when you write he blurted out, I cringe at the redundancy.

• I thought to myself (or he thought to himself)
Of course you think to yourself! Who else is in there with you? Now, you can say things to yourself. That means you’re speaking out loud, but are not engaged in a dialogue with another character. And that’s fine. Although it is, they say, one of the first signs of insanity.

• Then, then, and then
It’s not necessary to keep reminding me that one action came after another.

• May, when you mean might
When you are telling a story in the past tense, might is the word you should use. Trust me.

• Memories that flash or crash
Why is it so difficult to write about memories? Phrases like Memories of that day came crashing down on him or He flashed back to a happier time are just overdone. Corollary: memories that stab, as in Waves of guilt stabbed at him. Ick.

• That
He used to think that he couldn’t live without her. Then he realized that he could. If I had a nickel (as my father used to say) for every superfluous that I’ve removed from manuscripts, I could retire to that little Tybee Island beach house I’ve had my eye on.

There are other words/phrases that are fine to use, but because they are so very distinctive, you should only use them once. For example:

• Huff
I’ve seen characters who huff (1: to emit puffs of breath or steam; 2: to proceed with labored breathing, as he huffed up the stairs; 3: to make empty threats, to bluster; 4: to react or behave indignantly; 5: to utter with indignation or scorn), but when I see it repeatedly, I start to think there are pulmonary issues. Recently I read He huffed to himself, and I’m not even sure how that would work.

• Droll as a verb
Droll can be an adjective or a noun, too, but when a character drolls a line of dialogue, he should only do it once in any given novel. And I sincerely hope the line he is drolling is reeking of irony.

• Quirk as a verb
I love the word quirk used as a noun. But I only want to see your character quirk an eyebrow once.

• Smirk as a verb
I’ve written a whole blog post on this word; my biggest objection to it is it gets used incorrectly. But even when you do actually mean smirk, I’d prefer you only use it once.

I could make a long list of these distinctive words. I know you like them—they’re fun and different. But they call attention to themselves. For that matter, so do your favorite words. But the minute your reader starts noticing the repetition, she’s no longer lost in the story. When she starts rolling her eyes after the tenth you and I both know, you’ve lost a reader. Full stop.

Tweet: Words I never want to see in your novel. Please.
Tweet: In the spirit of self-improvement, let’s talk about your favorite words.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , , , ,

#WordUse Series:
On Stationery. And Guilds. And Vocabulary Words.

Stationery is an old-fashioned word. Or maybe I just think it’s old-fashioned because I learned it a long time ago and I don’t see it used much any more, given our electronic culture. But no, my fave dictionary lists it as having appeared in 1688—which is old enough, but its etymology is stationer, which we’re told by the same dictionary dates from the fourteenth century. So there you have it: old.

Stationery, a definition: 1) materials (as paper, pens, and ink) for writing or typing; and 2) letter paper usually accompanied with matching envelopes. And it follows, then, that a stationer is one who sells stationery, but the original meaning of stationer—the one that dates from the fourteenth century—is a) a bookseller and b) a publisher.

A-ha!

Back in the day, stationery was considered a ladylike gift for a young girl, and I had plenty of it, having already gained a reputation—by age ten!—for being quite the letter-writer. My first job in high school was at a stationery store. My mother kept stationery (Crane’s) and to this day, I do too. Nothing else will do.

So I was intrigued and later quite delighted when a friend of mine* noted (on Facebook) she was having dinner here. She attached that very link and there followed some discussion about whether her party (a professional organization) would be allowed to tour the building, particularly the library and archives:

The Company’s historic records from 1554 to the present day, housed in its Muniment Room, are remarkably complete and have withstood the ravages of time, fire and war. They form the single most important archival source for the history of the English book trade and have been used by scholars since the mid-eighteenth century.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What, er, Company? Answer: The Stationers’ Company is the City of London Livery Company for the communications and content industries.

We’ll need some more definitions. For example, the City of London is not to be confused with … well, London. (I’m not kidding. Read. We’re moving on. Keep up.) The City of London is only about a square mile, but it contains—besides a whole bunch of banks and other global financial institutions—precisely 108 livery companies. That is, trade associations. Or, if you remember your history lessons, guilds.

Guild, a definition: an association of merchants or craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guilds were fraternities of workers; Wikipedia says they were something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. But I’m talking about the guilds that emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages—tenth to twelfth centuries, say. Masons, blacksmiths, apothecaries, and such. These particular guilds have all been approved, at one point or another, by the British Crown.

When you think of livery—although you probably don’t, because it, too, is an old word—you may think of a uniform: 2a) the distinctive clothing or badge formerly worn by the retainers of a person of rank; 2b) a servant’s uniform; 2c) distinctive dress, garb; 2d) chiefly British, an identifying design (as on a vehicle) that designates ownership. Or you may think of “the feeding, stabling, and care of horses for pay,” as the words livery stable regularly appear briefly onscreen in Westerns and other period films set before the automobile replaced the horse and carriage as our primary means of transportation. But in this context—the 108 livery companies—we’re talking about a guild.

The Livery Companies of the City of London, then, started as guilds in the Middle Ages. Wikipedia says, “Some livery companies continue to have a professional role today. Other Livery Companies have become purely charitable foundations. Most Companies, particularly those formed in more recent times, are primarily social and charitable organisations. The active Companies play an important part in social life and networking in the City and have a long history of cultural patronage, and control of the City of London Corporation (which still functions as a local authority with extensive local government powers).”

Which brings us ’round to the Stationers Company. It was founded as a guild in 1403 and at that time stationers were text writers, illuminators, bookbinders, or booksellers (of hand-copied books; it would be 1440 before Gutenberg’s famous press arrived on the scene). Stationers worked at fixed, assigned positions (stations! a-ha again!) around the outside walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral. By the time the guild received its royal charter in 1557, though, machine printing had displaced manuscript production, so it was effectively a printers’ guild. In 1559 it became the forty-seventh Livery Company. Its official name is Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, which dates from 1937, when the Stationers’ Company and the Newspaper Makers Company were amalgamated by Royal Charter.

Are you still with me? The word company as it’s used in this context kept throwing me off, because I think of a company as something intended to make a profit. But, hey, a quick trip to the dictionary helps us make the distinction: 3a) a chartered commercial organization or medieval trade guild; and 3b) an association of persons for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise.

The Stationers’ Company has a beautiful, sophisticated, deep website, which is where this whole post started. (It was intended to be a Short Saturday post, but clearly I’ve failed.) I suspect you’ll get a kick out of it, as I did, not least because it’s our industry. I particularly delight in the way this six hundred-year-old organization with all that history presents such a modern face:

The Company’s mission is to be recognised as the most effective independent forum in the UK Communications and Content industries, actively contributing to the strategic development, success and education of these industries. The majority of our members work in or supply the paper, print, publishing, packaging, office products, newspaper, broadcasting and online media industries.

Oh, this has been so much fun!

*You didn’t know I’d get a blog post out of this, Roz, but thank you!

 

Tweet: Stationery is a very, very old word (14th century). Read all about it.
Tweet: On stationery. And guilds. And vocabulary words. They’re connected, really!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany, Words & Language | Tagged as: , , , , , ,

#WordUse Series:
Step Away From the Thesaurus and No One Gets Hurt

You know I love my thesaurus, right? I do. I have at least four of them, from various decades dating back to the ’40s (you’d be surprised how useful that is), as well as a rhyming dictionary, a slang dictionary, and something called the Flip Dictionary, which is more fun than any dictionary has a right to be.

Still, I love my thesaurus, for a variety of reasons. It’s especially useful for brainstorming, I think. As noted in a previous post, I often start by make lists of words I might use in a project. A Western-themed copywriting assignment led to a list that included cowboycowpokebuckaroobuffalo galssaddletrailblazelassomaverickcampfirepardnerhowdybandana, and so on. I use word lists to set mood, too; I review the many words that mean, let’s say, elegant—such as classycourtlygracefulrefinedtasteful—though I may never use them. I just want to feel them, let them roll around in my head and see if they knock anything loose. And they usually do.

But not always. A few weeks ago I drove my friends crazy when I was seeking a word for a man who is worldly, enjoys the good life, and is, perhaps, a bit of a bad boy, although the kind who endears himself to everyone. He’s a bon vivant, though that’s not the word I was looking for. Boulevardier, sophisticate, epicurean, and roué dance around it. This is a man who is cultivated, cosmopolitan, continental, refined, and always gracious; he’s elegant, polished, debonair, cultured. He is a connoisseur of the finer things. But none of these is the word, and I’m still annoyed with myself for all the hours I’ve spent thinking about it. I feel strongly that it might be some sort of British vernacular, and I’m probably going to have to go read a Julian Fellowes novel or three to come up with it. (It’s a tough ol’ job, but someone’s got to do it.)

If you’re a writer, you might have used the thesaurus when you were looking for ways to describe a character’s blue eyes (azure, icy, sky) or blond hair (straw, honey, bleached)—but sometimes I wish you wouldn’t.

No, seriously. I can tell when an author’s spent too much time with his thesaurus at fifty paces. In a manuscript I reviewed for a publisher years ago, someone must have told the author he should replace duplicate words. So he did. He just opened his thesaurus, looked up a word he’d used more than once, and picked substitute words without having a real knowledge of the substitute’s drill-down meaning. For example, I noticed the word aspect used as a substitute for face, as in “he had a look of horror on his aspect.” True story.

That’s an extreme example, but the fact is, a thesaurus is not a shortcut to building vocabulary. There are shades of meaning. And if the word isn’t already in your personal vocabulary, you’re liable to use it incorrectly. It won’t sound like you. The lesson here is when you use the thesaurus too much, two things happen:

1. The unusual words draw attention to themselves.
2. It just doesn’t sound like your voice.

Sure, sometimes the story might call for a sparkly word. You might have a character who speaks with flair. Or you may not be able to remember a word that’s right on the tip of your tongue. By all means, avail yourself of this wonderful tool.

Just be careful. You’re allowed to use words more than once, you know. :) And sometimes plain, simple language helps the reader stay in the story. Sometimes less really is more.

UPDATE: There’s more on this subject here.

Tweet: I can tell when an author’s spent too much time with his thesaurus at 50 paces.
Tweet: A thesaurus is not a shortcut to building vocabulary. Use with caution.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language, Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , , , ,

Short Saturday: Should You Hire a Professional Editor?

That answer’s always going to be yes of you ask me, of course. :) But publishing expert Jane Friedman has a more measured response in this article. :)

“There are three primary reasons to hire a professional,” Friedman says:

1 The learning experience.
2 The industry advantage.
3 Submission preparation.

All excellent reasons. But before you can benefit from them, you have to fully embrace the editing process. (Or, as one of my authors said to me this morning: I’ve realized you and I speak the same language.) I’ve seen this in my own practice, and Friedman has too:

Writers don’t always understand what type of editor to use, or how an editor is supposed to improve their work. This results in surface-level changes that don’t meaningfully affect the chances at publication. Less experienced writers also tend to be more protective of their work and less likely to revise. … If you’re hoping an editor will wave a magic wand and transform your work into a publishable manuscript over night, you’ll be disappointed by the results. But if you feel you’ve come to the end of your own ability to improve the work, you’re more likely to benefit.

That bit about the magic wand is an important point. Editing is a give and take arrangement.

Read the rest—it’s very informative.

Tweet: You have to fully embrace the editing process before you can benefit from it.
Tweet: Should you hire a professional editor?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as:

#WordUse Series: ’Til? Till? Until?

The word until can be a preposition (it took until late that evening to unload the truck, for example) or a conjunction (we kept unloading until it got dark) and for many years I believed the shortened version of this word was ’til.

You know—like ’til is a truncation of until, with the apostrophe indicating that a part of the word is missing, as in a contraction (can not becomes can’t, for example, with the apostrophe standing in for the missing letter).*

So if I were going to sing along with my favorite boy band, I sang,

There were bells on the hill,
but I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all
’Til there was you … **

That is, until I heard a piece about this very thing on the radio a few years ago. I scribbled down the pertinent line—till is the older word!—and when I was looking for more information later, I found that plenty has been said about it. And I learned that I’d been wrong. (Most of my opinions about such things, you should know, come from the voluminous reading of American novels typeset in the middle decades of the last century.)

Here is an interesting post about it from Motivated Grammar. The writer of this blog, a linguist, thought as I did, until he looked further.

Why would anyone spell it till if it’s coming from until? Well, it turns out that till isn’t derived from until. Till and ’til are actually two different words with two different etymologies. Till is the earlier form, attested as early as 1330; Until is actually derived from till, not the other way around as in ’til (a backformation which showed up much later).

What you can take from this, of course, is both ’til and till are acceptable. I myself tend to use the former in my personal correspondence (old habits, etc.) but since it isn’t even mentioned in my fave dictionary, I’ve started editing to till, which also eliminates the chance that the apostrophe will be turned the wrong way. :)

* Interestingly, I had also always thought bate was a truncation of abate and thus should be written as ’bate (as in he waited for the election results with ’bated breath) … but that is not the case either. See what you can learn if you simply ask a question and check the answer?
** Written by Meredith Willson for his 1957 musical play The Music Man.

 

Tweet: The word until can be a preposition or a conjunction, but there’s more to it than that.
Tweet: Why would anyone spell it TILL if it’s derived from UNTIL?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , ,

Short Saturday: Creative Storytelling Lessons

I haven’t seen Hamilton, but I know a lot of you are fans—and in this article about the making-of documentary Hamilton’s America, author Charles Wendig offers up storytelling lessons, noting, “there’s nothing more fascinating than watching an interesting creator in the process of creation, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is nothing if not a very interesting creator, indeed.”

Wendig notes several truths, including “It takes the time that it takes,” and “Characters are made up of both light and dark,” but I particularly liked “Read broadly, because inspiration happens in weird places”:

Lin-Manuel found the inspiration [for] Hamilton in Ron Chernow’s book. At least, that was the match that lit the powder keg—Miranda was sitting on an explosive barrel packed with hip-hop culture and historical musicals and his own life (and his own father’s life, too). There is an astonishing creative alchemy there, but it only happens when you let it. … Miranda isn’t absorbing a creative diet of only other musicals. That’s part of it. But it’s also his life. His experience. And then it’s also about reading broadly. Go beyond the fence. Leave the comfort of the town and head out into the woods where unexpected books offer unanticipated mystery—and, better yet, unseen inspiration.

I also really liked that he uses the word grok, which is a word I also use and appreciate. :) It’s a good article. As is always the case with Wendig, there is strong language, so be warned.

Have a great weekend. Spend some of it reading, mayhaps.

Tweet: Watching other creators create yields lessons for writers.
Tweet: “Read broadly, because inspiration happens in weird places.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Creativity, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , ,

#WordUse Series:
You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

I admit I’m sometimes out of the loop. (Or behind the curve. Or whatever.) I don’t watch television and it’s only me up here in the swanky second-floor office in the pink house with the blue door, so whole fads pass me by. Whole memes pass me by.

But I am up on my word usage, kids. And Your Editor would like you to start using the word meme correctly. Let’s review. This is the definition of meme:

meme noun \ˈmēm\
plural -s
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
Origin of MEME
alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme
First Known Use: 1976

So just because you add some words to a photograph—creating what I’ll call a “digital poster with a pithy saying”—and post it on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, that isn’t a meme.

Here’s what Wikipedia says: “An Internet meme is an idea, style or action which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet, as with imitating the concept. Some notable examples include: posting a photo of people in public places lying down planking, or uploading a short video of people dancing to the Harlem Shake.” (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, it’s the concept, not the thing. I just saw a blog post titled “A Collection of Memes for Writers”—and it was a dozen “digital posters with pithy sayings.” The blogger could have typed those same quotes into a bullet list—the effect would have been the same. But because someone drew a box around each quote and changed the font to Comic Sans, did that make it a meme?

No. It did not.*

A viral photograph isn’t a meme either. The Russian athletes kissing, Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way to accept an Academy Award—those are just photographs that got shared around a lot. That photo of Scarlett Johansson falling down is just a photo too—until someone Photoshops Scarlett onto the back of a dolphin or playing bongo drums on the sidewalk. Now it’s become a meme.

Similarly, a photobomb is just a photograph with someone or something unexpected in it, like the gentleman who realized too late he’d walked into a photo of a romantic (?) marriage proposal at Disney World. It becomes a meme when the bomber shows up in iconic photos such as Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston in that round one knockout in 1965 or the Beatles in the Abbey Road pedestrian crossing in 1969.

video of a baby polar bear taking its first steps at the Toronto Zoo is delightful, I must say. But in spite of what the folks at Know Your Meme think, this is just a viral video. However, when people all over the world create dialogue for a snippet of video—say, a four-minute scene from the movie Downfall, a 2004 German war film starring Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler, in which Hitler learns he’s lost his bid for, you know, world domination—you have the Hitler Reacts meme. (For example: Hitler learns of the Twitter outage, Hitler reacts to SOPA, Hitler finds out about Disney buying Star Wars, and so on.)

Not all memes are rooted in humor. A recent (2013) Facebook meme asks friends to make a list of ten books “that have stayed with you.” (These sorts of memes don’t ever seem to be written by folks who are particularly—ahem—good writers. “Stayed with you”? That’s the best we could do to articulate the notion that reading a book can profoundly affect one’s worldview?) And then there’s this. (Who knew?)

Timeliness plays a part too. Hitler Reacts is hilarious because each iteration is of the moment (and quickly becomes dated, such as Hitler reacting to Hillary Clinton’s withdrawal from the 2008 presidential race). The best memes often are, which is why they have such staying power: they’re new over and over. In the 2001 film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir (played by Sean Bean), notes the task at hand is a difficult one, saying, “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” Thus we have the One Does Not Simply meme, which seems to renew itself with every season and news cycle.

One Does Not Simply tends to take the form of a photograph—a rugged Sean Bean with his hand held just so—with (as noted above) a pithy saying attached to it. But the meme itself is the concept of an advice-giving Boromir. Similarly, all I have to do is say Grumpy Cat and you know what I mean. The concept of Grumpy Cat—annoyed with the world—is a meme.

But any old photo with some pithy words on it … that’s not a meme. Got it?

It is not, however, a meme in and of itself. (Thank you, Tommy Greer.)

It is not, however, a meme in and of itself. (Thank you, Tommy Greer.)

That is all. :)

* ANOTHER UPDATE: Since I published this article three and a half years ago, the transformation of the meaning of this word is just about complete. Folks pretty much use it to mean a photo with words on it. I blame politics.

UPDATE: There’s more on this subject here.

Tweet: Your Editor would like you to start using the word meme correctly. Let’s review.
Tweet: That baby polar bear is just a viral video. But “Hitler Reacts”? That’s a meme.
Tweet: Just because you add words to a photograph & post it on Facebook, it isn’t a meme.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , , , , , , ,

Short Saturday: Nonfiction Book Structure

When I clicked on this blog post from literary agent Janet Grant and read …

Nonfiction Book Structure = More Than a String of Blog Posts

… I stood up and cheered. Because, yes, she’s said a mouthful. You cannot just cut and paste together your blog posts and call it good. As Grant notes:

  • Book: it’s more than a string of somewhat-related articles
  • Structure: each chapter builds on the one before
  • Chapters: showcase the structure
  • Theme: should be carefully built into each chapter

Have a look. You can thank me later. :)

Tweet: Got a few dozen blog posts? You might have a book but it’ll take some work.
Tweet: Writing nonfiction? Here’s a way to use your resources.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: ,

#WordUse Series:
Gosh, I Had No Idea!

One of my authors was dismayed, recently, when he got a disturbing letter from a young reader who took his book back to the bookstore without finishing it because we (the author, his publisher, and me, his editor) had used the word gosh. The letter came complete with a photocopy of the page in Webster’s where this “not so nice” word is defined.

Um. What?

Naturally I went right to my fave dictionary. Seriously, I had no idea gosh was a “euphemism for God” but we have to read further. That’s not the current definition, it’s the etymology of the word (which means that back in 1757, when the word first appeared in print, it was a euphemism for God). I assure you when I use the word gosh, I use it in the defined sense: “used as a mild oath or to express surprise.”

As did, you know, Napoleon Dynamite. (Not that he’s an ideal role model, mind you.) And publishing expert Mike Hyatt, who earlier this year* tweeted, “Oh my gosh! I just got my picture taken with the President.” Just havin’ a little fun, people. One assumes the mother of our letter writer never dressed him in OshKosh B’Gosh. Ahem.

I don’t mean to offend. But neither did my author. Language is constantly evolving. And in my humble opinion, if you go looking to find fault … well, you usually can.

* Well, back in 2011 when this post first ran.

 

Tweet: Gosh, just havin’ a little fun, people.
Tweet: If you go looking to find fault word by word by word … well, you usually can.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: ,