Category Archives: language

Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading

Is your book dated? A writer’s cautionary tale

In the beginning…

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Many years ago, around about my fourth book, I created a town called Maybridge. It was an amalgam of the town I grew up in and a much larger town a few miles away.

Since then, it has provided the background for many stories. It may be no more than a brief visit by the hero or heroine. A shopping trip, a visit to the bank manager, a visit to A&E.

In a couple of books the heroine lives there, and we see her set off on an adventure that will change her life.

Image by Trang Dang from Pixabay

Sometimes I set a story in the town and, over the years, I have created a world with a river (the River May), a thriving foodie area with independent shops, a huge old coaching inn that has become a great craft centre (owned by one of my heroes, naturally), parks, major companies and history.

World Building

Continue reading

Book descriptors : but what do they actually mean?

TBR pile of booksThis week, in connection with something unrelated to this blog, I came across a lot of book descriptors. By that, I mean the kind of words that are supposed to identify types and genres of fiction. Now I think I know what’s meant by romance or historical or saga. But some of the others? Um. Not so much.

So this blog is about a failing in my education. I need to get my head around these new and unfamiliar words to describe fiction. Who knows, I may even be writing some of them?
But if I don’t understand the book descriptors, how will I ever know?

Uplit, or Up-Lit, or Up Lit (Take your pick on spelling)

One of the first book descriptors I fell over was Uplit. I tried the dictionary. Nope. (It asked me if I’d meant to type uplift. Sigh.) Continue reading

Anachronisms and pesky unknown unknowns to puzzle us

key on keyboard labelled Oops! for mistakeWriters of historicals are always on the lookout for anachronisms. They still trip us up, time and again. But the real elephant traps are the unknown unknowns [© D Rumsfeld?], the things we don’t know we don’t know—and, as a result, we don’t know we’re getting wrong.

I was prompted to write this blog by some of the reactions to my post about habit words, a couple of weeks ago. woman with clock, pointing finger at headSo this week’s post is about anachronisms of various kinds.

Anachronisms? The standard definition is something out of its time—an object, an expression, an attitude—something that does not belong in the period of the story.

We wouldn’t put electric light in a Regency setting, for example. That one is easy to spot. But how am I, as a historical writer, supposed to spot the ones that lurk in the undergrowth of my ignorance? Continue reading

Habit Words : Use, Abuse, Remedies

snoopy at pink typewriterDo you use habit words in your writing?

I bet you do. Perhaps all authors do? A few weeks ago, in her excellent presentation on snappy dialogue at the RNA Virtual Conference 2020, Virginia Heath confessed to overusing the phrase “he huffed out” as a speech tag for her heroes. Virginia, being a professional, knows how to catch and reduce her use of habit words. Do you?

To start at the beginning: what are Habit Words?

yellow bollards, repetition concept

Repetition can be boring. And people do notice…

Habit words and phrases are part of an author’s voice, the words and phrases that come naturally and automatically, that trip off the tongue, that make the writing sound like you. Continue reading

Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

  1. Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter
  2. Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms
  3. Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?
  4. Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?
  5. Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek
  6. Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?
  7. Halloween imports we could do without? A Damely rant
  8. Pedantique-Ryter : Between You and I? Better than me?
  9. Right word : wrong place? Pedantique-Ryter rants
  10. Pedantique-Ryter : changing meanings, right and wrong
  11. Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?
  12. Pedantique-Ryter rants about incomprehensible words
  13. Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant
  14. Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants
  15. Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

One of the casualties of the pandemic has been language. Clarity matters. What, I ask you, is social distancing?

couple distanced from each other

Social distancing? Or is it really physical distancing?

Regency ladyRegency servantIn my (pedant’s) book, social distancing relates to the strata of society.

So… Regency aristocrat Lady Evadne Piddling-Coot is socially distanced from her washerwoman Hattie Gutbucket. If they were to meet — unlikely, one would think — Hattie would drop a curtsey and say nothing. Or, if they met in a confined space such as a staircase, Hattie would turn to face the wall and Lady E would continue on her regal progress as if Hattie were not there at all.

Some fellow pedants have pointed out (in vain, sadly) that social distancing actually means physical distancing. What else could it mean, when we are talking about 2 metres, or 1 metre, or 1 metre plus? Continue reading

Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants

  1. Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter
  2. Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms
  3. Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?
  4. Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?
  5. Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek
  6. Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?
  7. Halloween imports we could do without? A Damely rant
  8. Pedantique-Ryter : Between You and I? Better than me?
  9. Right word : wrong place? Pedantique-Ryter rants
  10. Pedantique-Ryter : changing meanings, right and wrong
  11. Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?
  12. Pedantique-Ryter rants about incomprehensible words
  13. Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant
  14. Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants
  15. Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

The other week, when I was reading the news online — I do occasionally use the internet, in case you were wondering — I came across an advert from a major UK bank. It may be one of the largest in the world, but it certainly is not the most educated. crime scene tapeThe HSBC advert (for it was they!) said, roughly:

The criteria for our offer is X…

Not an exact quote, but the subject of the sentence was the word “criteria” and the verb was definitely “is”.  And I decided, on the spot, that I could never, ever bank with HSBC.

oops! key on keyboardEven the authors in the Libertà hive know better.
I mentioned it to dear Sophie on the telephone and I could hear her teeth grinding.
Quite right, too.

Sophie knew better. Why didn’t #hsbc ?

Criteria? Singular or Plural?

Continue reading

Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant

  1. Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter
  2. Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms
  3. Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?
  4. Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?
  5. Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek
  6. Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?
  7. Halloween imports we could do without? A Damely rant
  8. Pedantique-Ryter : Between You and I? Better than me?
  9. Right word : wrong place? Pedantique-Ryter rants
  10. Pedantique-Ryter : changing meanings, right and wrong
  11. Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?
  12. Pedantique-Ryter rants about incomprehensible words
  13. Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant
  14. Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants
  15. Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

Incoherent English? Yes, another bee in the Pedantique-Ryter bonnet.

Radio 4 Today programme in the dock for incoherent speech

industrious bee on flowerIn a short interval between my summer educational tours, I happened to be listening to what the pundits maintain is the UK’s “must-listen” political programme — BBC Radio 4’s Today. I heard an interviewer ask a question that was incoherent.

To save that interviewer’s blushes, I shall not repeat the actual words used. The question was roughly along these lines:

“As a supporter of the Rational Incoherence Party, I’m sure our listeners will want to know whether you would support policy X.”

Question: who is the supporter of the RIP?
[Note: As far as I know, no political party admits to that name. Perhaps one of them should?] Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?

  1. Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter
  2. Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms
  3. Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?
  4. Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?
  5. Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek
  6. Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?
  7. Halloween imports we could do without? A Damely rant
  8. Pedantique-Ryter : Between You and I? Better than me?
  9. Right word : wrong place? Pedantique-Ryter rants
  10. Pedantique-Ryter : changing meanings, right and wrong
  11. Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?
  12. Pedantique-Ryter rants about incomprehensible words
  13. Incoherent English : a Pedantique-Ryter Rant
  14. Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants
  15. Clarity : Language Use and Misuse : Pedantique-Ryter rants

We could of had it all

exclamation mark in fireIf you do a web search for could of, you’ll find quite a few people searching for song lyrics. Examples of search terms include: exploding champagne as in "it could of been the champagne"It could of been the champagne

and “It could of been me.”

We could of had it all” was a search for a song by Adele, called Rolling in the Deep.

And the line in question was, of course,
We could HAVE had it all“.

What’s happening here?

Continue reading

Mnemonics: spelling and those dreaded lists

exclamation mark in fire; just right for mnemonicsMnemonics for spelling

Mnemonics, as a word, is no advert for English spelling. And English spelling most certainly needs help. What’s the point of that silent M at the start? (Blame the Greeks. Their spelling isn’t easy either.)

English spelling (and pronunciation) may well be the world’s worst. How many students, trying to learn English as a foreign language, have been flummoxed by:
through, thorough, cough, enough, hiccough, sough, dough?

I often have problems with words where changing the spelling changes the meaning: practise/practice and the like. The spellchecker is no help to me with that, of course.

My regular bugbear is affect/effect. I have to stop to work out which is correct when I’m writing.
The Oxford Dictionary tells me that affect and effect are quite different in meaning, though frequently confused. (A statement of the bleedin’ obvious?) Continue reading