Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vocabulary 101

            Yep, you’ve had some time off from my rantings.  Now it’s time to get back to basics.
            I keep coming back to spelling.  There’s a reason for that.  Talk to any editor, publisher, contest director, or producer and they’ll say the number one problem they see in writing is spelling and grammar.  No matter what the story is, lots of manuscripts get rejected because the raw number of mistakes make them look amateurish and unprofessional.  It’s not the only reason they get rejected, granted, but I’d put money down that it’s a major factor in most rejections.  There’s a reason I lump such things into the 50% rule.
            I can’t be a chef if I can’t distinguish between chicken and turkey.  If I can’t tell an alternator from a carburetor, my career as a mechanic is going to be very short-lived.  And if I want to succeed at this writing thing—not in a spiritual way or a making-Dad-proud way or an I’ll-show-my-ex way, but in a serious, financial, this isn’t just a hobby way—I need to know how to use words.  There’s no way around it.  None.
            So here are some words that get misspelled—or misused—a lot.  And the writer doesn’t know, because they don’t know how to spell.  They just use a spell checker, because they thing it will never, ever mace a mistake... even if they did.
            The list is going to be a bit shorter this time around.  One of my regular contest-reader sources cut back on his hours a bit, and I haven’t read as much as I wanted to the past few months.  But my regular rules still hold—pretty much all of these words come from major websites, screenplays, or manuscripts.  Two of them are from published books.  My definition is for the word they thought they were using.  So if you’ve got a good vocabulary, you’ll probably get a chuckle or three over these.
            Pick up your signaling devices and....

solid and soiled – you only want to step on one of these things
foul and fowl – one of these tastes like chicken
balaclava and baklava – only one of these should be on your head
grisly and gristly – one of these is a tough piece of meat
grizzly and grisly – one of these is a bear
bear and bare – one means to endure or tolerate
passed and past—one of these means you didn’t get the promotion
definitely and defiantly – one of these is absolutely correct
succeed and secede – one of these means your state ends up alone
succession and secession – one of these is the process of ending up alone
due and do – one of these you pay
capital and capitol – one of these is money in the bank

            Did you know all of them?   
            Bonus round.  Which of these words get applied to a horrific scene?  Which one’s a tasty dessert?  If I owe money, which two of these words will probably be on my next bill?
            As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s not enough just to know the words I’m asking about.  As a writer, I need to know all of them.  These are the tools of my trade, and I can’t be half-assed with them.  Knowing three ingredients in a recipe and winging it with the rest just doesn’t work.  If I’m going to call myself a chef, I’ve got to know them all.
            Because if I don’t know my words, my story starts to become muddled and unclear.  And I can’t be lazy and say “people will understand it from the context,” because using the wrong words changes the context.  If Phoebe decides to grin and bear it, it means she’s not going to let on how much the current situation is getting to her.  If she decides to grin and bare it, though, it means she just pulled her shirt open in a moment of naughtiness.  That changes the whole tone of the scene, and it could really change our view of Phoebe as a character.  So to speak.
            I need to learn to spell.  Me.  Not my spell-checker, not Dictionary.com.  Me.  The more I depend on someone else to do it for me, the weaker I am as a writer.  And if I’m a weak writer who’s decided to partner up with an idiot, well...
            Next time, I’d like to offer a quick tip I came up with while down at ConDor a few weeks ago.
            Until then, go write.

4 comments:

  1. Hurray for you! Too many of the self-published seem to completely ignore rules of not only spelling, but everything else about our language. And SpellCheck ain't gonna catch your misused homonyms.
    How about Cavalry and Calvary? Only one of them is where Jesus died.

    ReplyDelete
  2. its not just self-published stuff. not by a long shot. I find errors in traditionally published books frequently. Hell, I just re-read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and found three instances of just blatantly wrong words. This was the newest edition too! Those mistakes haven't been fixed in how many decades, over how many editions?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Laurel-- Jesus died on horseback? Who knew... I'll definitely add that one to my list for next time.

    Travis-- it's definitely not just self-published works, although I think they've still got the larger percentage of such errors. I remember I came across one misused word in the hardcover of King's Under The Dome, but now I can't recall what it was...

    ReplyDelete
  4. You should check out Phrase Wit, if you've got a device that can play it :) Mangling language is a crime, but at least someone can make a buck out of it.

    ReplyDelete