Skip to main content

Being Precise

This is a re-post from 2011. Just not up to being clever right now.

I know that language changes over time. It has to. I know that clinging to the old ways is futile and might make me seem cantankerous or even silly. But it was my job, for three decades, to guard the language, to see that people under my care used it clearly rather than sloppily, thinking about what they wanted to convey as well as what other people might make of it. So I'm going to list some things that seem to me worth keeping in our language.
PLEASE KEEP distinctions between similar words. People who are aware of the differences listed here are disappearing, yet there is good reason for keeping their separate meanings.
                nauseated/nauseous-People become nauseated when they encounter something that is nauseous.
                might/may-I might call and ask you if I may take you out to dinner.
                farther/further-He went farther than anyone else to further grammatical awareness.
                fewer than/less than- She ate fewer M&M's than he did but drank less soda.
                bust/burst-The police burst through the door to bust the drug dealers.
PLEASE USE the correct word or word form. If we think as we speak (gasp) we might recall the things we were taught. Yes, grammar rules change, but it's hard to have a sensible system when usage is sloppy. I say keep the simple rules and do away with the goofy ones. The examples below result from not thinking about what is being said.
                Say, "Drive slowly" not "drive slow". The verb should be modified by an adverb that       tells how the driving is to be done.  We can add that things should taste "really good" as well, since adjectives are modified by adverbs just as verbs are.
                Write "I'm supposed to" instead of "I'm suppose to". Since we've lost the sense of the word "suppose" in this phrase, which was originally something like "it is supposed (expected) that I will do this" we have begun to lose the form it should take too.
                Write "I would have" instead of "I would of". It's easy to explain, difficult to fix. People hear of" not "have", so they spell the word they hear, despite the fact that it makes no sense. (Perhaps we shouldn't worry. It will become "woulda", anyway.)
I do not contend that being precise will save your soul, make you healthier, or turn the economy around. I just like it a lot (TWO words) when people speak and write precisely.


Popular posts from this blog

Book Clubs Take Note: Discussion Guide: Sister Saint, Sister Sinner

  When I sent Sister Saint, Sister Sinner to my editor, she was (as usual) helpful about pointing out areas that needed more development, parts that repeated information already given, and places where the logic  temporarily failed. At the end, she made a comment that stuck with me: "People are going to be talking about the things you deal with in this book." To me, that meant the story was destined for book clubs. Having visited a few in my years of writing, I knew that they often begin with a list of discussion topics. Now, they often don't stay focused on them, and that's okay. Sometimes it's the wine. Sometimes it's a natural progression. But discussion leaders like having questions that can get the conversation back on track when it strays too far from the story. Every person who reads a book gets something out of it that no one else does. I had the experience once of visiting a book group where one reader didn't like the book and kept bringing up her

What Do You Have of Grandma's?

My grandmother died on my birthday in 1968. We couldn't wish her back, since she'd been in a lot of pain for a long time. Later, I helped Mom clean out her house, and we came upon her sewing basket. For some reason I asked if I could have it, and my mother said yes. I still have it. I think of her every time I take it out of its cupboard, though I can't think of a single time I saw Grandma sewing. It's hers, and that's enough. My other grandmother was the type who asked her progeny what they wanted of her things long before she died. One day when I was visiting I told her about my new hobby, refinishing old furniture. Pointing to a table that had always sat in her living room, she explained that as a young woman she too had taken up that task. The classic-style table was cherry wood, she told me, and she had rescued it from somewhere and given it new life with elbow grease and varnish. "Maybe you'll want it when I'm gone," she said, and I readi

A Story for My Peeps--And a Sale for My E-books

        December-r-r E-BOOK SALE      You might know about Smashwords. To be honest, I don’t know much. But one of my publishers, Draft2Digital, recently acquired Smashwords, so they are one entity. Smashwords invited all D2D authors to join their December e-book sale, so I did.   From December 15 to December 30, 2022, (the kickoff to the real winter season in my home state of Michigan), all of my e-books, both Maggie Pill and Peg Herring titles, will be half off. Fifty percent. Basically, two for the price of one. Is that cool (winter reference) or what? As a rule of thumb, Maggie Pill books are cozy mysteries, (e.g. the Sleuth Sisters & the Trailer Park Tales series) meaning they’re funny (I think), small-townish, and as non-violent as one can get when the story centers on murder. Peg Herring books are all over the map, because I write the story that interests me at any given time. Those who’ve been with me throug