Language choices and why they matter

27 Jul

A few weeks ago, Larissa Ione had a great and funny post about this subject here. Of course the first reaction upon reading it is to laugh. Put like that, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? Seriously, how often in real life people gasp in the middle of heartfelt conversations? I have a nagging suspicion that the answer would be either “almost no one I know” or “no one I know.”

Most people tend to use some words with greater frequency than others—mea culpa: after I hit post on my very first review I realized that I used the same adjective four times in three successive paragraphs. Picture me wincing—repeatedly. 😀 Brilliant prose it ain’t, obviously. But then, I am not a writer nor do I aspire to ever become one. Further, whatever I write doesn’t go through an editing process wherein three or more other people read through and point out things that need fixing.

(Yes, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.)

Books are supposed to go through that editing process I mentioned before, wherein typos and grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies and all that good stuff are supposed to be weeded out before the book reaches the reader. So when I read a book—and most particularly a printed book—and find certain things, I get all cranky. For example…

I read a book recently wherein the characters didn’t say things to each other. They cried them—three times out of four.

They didn’t stare incredulously or in surprise. They gaped¹—which frankly, is so not a look I would aim for. Again, three times out of four.

They didn’t raise their voices or even yelled. They screeched. Yes, frequently, and no, not only during arguments or emotional scenes.

I got that the writer was striving to convey depth of feeling, but it was extremely distracting. Not only did the characters become angsty teenagers in my mind instead of the adults they were described as, but the mind images were just… ugh. In the end, the use of those specific words became a form of shorthand—in the same way that for other writers making the hero a Navy SEAL seems to mean that any characterization beyond that is redundant.

Which it ain’t neither, by the way.

In another book, everything spills: heat, feelings, water, hunger, sweat, light, hair, comfort… (isn’t that a truly weird mental image, spilling comfort? 😯 )

Then we have the amazing heated warm hair. And no, please don’t ask where I got that one, because I have mercifully blocked it.

In yet another book, the hero wasn’t just muscular—he had slabs of muscle. Every time there was a reason to describe his body, there were slabs of muscle. Not layers, ever. Slabs, every single time.

Then we have the 6’4” hero who is nailing the 5’2” heroine while kissing her breasts. Oh, and they are standing, he is not holding her aloft. Pretzel, much?

As you may have noticed, I am not really talking about certain specific words—such as c**t or cream or whatever—which have negative associations for a large segment of the readership *raising hand on both examples* No, what I am talking about here is much more general and, sadly, much more pervasive than I would like.

Poor wording yanks me out of the story more effectively than most anything else—my mind just sees what I’m reading on the page, and leaves me wondering where the editor(s) were during the process.

What are your language peeves?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

¹From dictionary.com

gaped: verb
1. to stare with open mouth, as in wonder.
2. to open the mouth wide involuntarily, as the result of hunger, sleepiness, or absorbed attention.
3. to open as a gap; split or become open wide.

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