Category Archives: grammar

Word Choice: Matt Duvall guest blog


~Today’s blog comes from Matt Duvall!~

Hi! My name is Matt Duvall. I’m in the same MFA program as Irene, and she was kind enough to invite me to guest blog. I’m hoping she doesn’t regret it.

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about word choice.

Part of this has to do with the fact that next week I’ll be back in school, teaching 9th and 10th graders. Rarely, very rarely, I have to remind them of appropriate word choice for an academic setting.

It may also be a result of Irene’s blog about grammar, or the preparation I’ve been doing to get ready for the “Word Choice Workout” online workshop that my wife and I are presenting for the Passionate Ink chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m a writer, and thinking about words is what we do.

Regardless of the why, I’ve come up with a short list of my (current) favorite words. Some of these are favorites because of their literal meaning. Some I like because of their connotation. And some just sound really cool. So, without further ado, I give you: words Matt Duvall really likes.

  • Avuncular. My uncle turned me on to this one, and it’s been a favorite ever since.
  • Cogitation. Of all the words on my list, I thought about this one the most. As a teenager, I used to think it meant something dirty.
  • Limned. There’s something poetic about it. In fact, there’s a poem by Samuel Daniel that uses it.
  • Malevolent. It’s one of those words that just sound evil–and it is.
  • Shambling. I particularly like this to describe the living dead, or the waitresses at an all-night diner.

Of course, there are some words I don’t care for. Here’s a short list, along with my reasoning.

  • Epistemology. Thinking about it gives me a headache.
  • Felt. I only dislike this word in fiction, and only when it’s not used to describe a fabric. Basically, if a writer says “So-and-so felt x emotion,” she’s telling, not showing. Example: Hank felt scared. Compare to: The hairs on the back of Hank’s neck stood up. (I know, it’s cliche, but it’s still better–isn’t it?)
  • Guarantee. Nothing against the word itself, except that I always misspell it.
  • Hirsute. I don’t care for it–perhaps because I am.
  • Moist. Just…icky.

So those are my lists. What words rock your world–or make you cringe?

Get Rid of Grammar?

So… I went on a minor grammar rant this morning on my Facebook page.  🙂

This led several teachers, writers, and other friends to “like” it and then lament the inevitable question we hear: “But why should we use proper grammar and spelling when people can understand what we’re saying either way?”

Interesting question. At first, as a writer, reader, and teacher, I generally feel the world must recognize standard rules of grammar and spelling in order to be taken seriously at work, school, and many other places.

But there is the fact of this, mentioned in the thread.

+ theirs teh fact dat u cn und3rstand wut im riting even wen its totuly rong.

So what difference does it make?

I think this goes back to something that many writers face every day: the importance of word choice.

There is a flow to sentence structure and word choice that means one sentence could be expressed many different ways, and each way will create a different reaction in readers.

Here are some examples:

“Please remember to pick up the milk on the way home,” she said before he had time to hang up.

“Are you going to actually remember the milk this time?” Her voice cracked through the receiver, and he nearly dropped his cell.

“Oh, please, just bring me some milk. That’s all I ask of you,” she begged, hoping he hadn’t hung up yet.

“Rmbr 2 get mlk,” she texted.

There is context in each of these sentences. In some, we’re in the woman’s point of view, while in at least one other, we’re in the man’s. One or more of these sentences suggests problems in the relationship between these people. The text message example, with its brevity, implies a lack of importance.

Though I’m a fan of grammar and spelling, I don’t actually mind “text speak” or “l337.” In my opinion, these have their places and connotations just as any other sentence structures or word choices do.

And yet, I don’t much care for grammatical errors that appear to be true errors instead of deliberate character choices. Even though I can understand what the writer meant, the mistakes distract and sometimes even annoy me. Why is this?

Again, what difference does it really make?

Singer Linger Longer

I’m out of town today for my aunt’s birthday in Tampa, and we’re taking a quick break to enjoy some literary nerdiness and drink hot chocolate.

The hot chocolate comes from Starbucks. The nerdiness comes from Peter Farb. We’re taking a look at a selection from his book, Word Play: What Happens When People Talk, and have found that there is actually a rule in the English language regarding whether the G is pronounced as a hard consonant when it appears in a word that ends with ER.

For instance, Singer.

This is not a word with a hard G.

If I have this correctly, then according to Farb, the reason there is no hard G is that Singer is derived from a verb.

However, neither Linger nor Longer has a verb at its root, and therefore, we pronounce the G as a hard letter.

And there you have it. Birthday fun from my family.