Archive for the ‘Language Use’ Category


(We recently began running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re currently featuring blasts from the past from 2013, and will be for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Bad Writing Trends

Bad writing trends come and go in written English. (We’re not talking about, like, you know, spoken English.) Over the last few decades, one of the most prominent has been the use of apostrophes to form plurals, as in, “Idiot’s form the plural by inserting an apostrophe before an ‘s.'” Fortunately, this manner of forming plurals is now regarded almost universally as semi-literate, and it seems to be fading away.

Another really bad trend is use of wordy, pretentious “of” constructions in place of adjectives (mostly those ending in “ed”), as in “horse of disease” rather than “diseased horse.” Fortunately, this type of construction also seems to be fading away. If the contrary was true, we’d likely find ourselves reading sentences such as, “The girl of size in the dress of stripes bought a balloon of color.” Fortunately, such constructions are becoming increasingly rare, and the adjectival “of” form survives today primarily in the mandatory PC usage, “people of color.”

As noted in a previous post, “and” is increasingly used in place of “to” in the infinitive, as in the barbaric, “I’m going to try and write literate-sounding sentences.” This usage seems to be on the upswing, but it’s so ugly that one suspects (well, fervently hopes) it will disappear in short order. Just remember, “and” is not part of the infinitive.

(As a side note, I was dismayed a couple of nights ago, while rereading Heart of Darkness, to see that even Joseph Conrad used “and” as part of the infinitive — in 1899! [The horror! The horror!] There’s only one instance of this in the book, but still . . . . . So, while I detest this mangled form of the infinitive and wish it would go away, I’m not holding my breath.)

Another really bad and ascending trend is the overuse of hyphens, what one might term “hyphen glut” (or should that be “hyphen-glut”?). Hyphens are creeping into places where they simply should not be, where they’re simply unnecessary. The primary example is “well-known.” In this usage, “well” is an adverb, a word that modifies an immediately following adjective. Hence, the hyphen is unnecessary; it’s ugly clutter. It’s even common nowadays to see hyphens inserted between adverbs ending in “ly” and following adjectives, as in “friendly-sounding.” This is even worse than inserting hyphens after other adverbs. The “ly” ending is figuratively leaping into the air, waving pom poms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!”

Just remember, do not use hyphens between adverbs and adjectives; rather, use them in adjectival phrases that precede the noun being modified, as in, “Bubba downed five shots of tequila in his end-of-the-day ritual.” And omit the hyphens if the phrase comes after the noun, as in, “Bubba’s ritual consisted of downing five shots of tequila at the end of the day,” (which after an hour of writing about verbal atrocities sounds like a pretty good idea — cheers).


(We recently began running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re currently featuring blasts from the past from 2013, and will be for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Why we rejection 99% of queries and manuscripts

by Chaz Bufe

As primary editor for See Sharp Press, I’ve seen thousands of queries and manuscripts over the years. I reject probably 99% of them. I derive no joy from doing this, but I have to do it. There are reasons.

The first is that probably half of the authors who approach us don’t bother to read our submission guidelines. Some send manuscripts rather than query letters. Others send queries about books that are outside of our  niches, often way outside, in areas we specifically state we do not publish. Still others are obviously making simultaneous submissions, something to which we loudly say no in our guidelines.

That takes care of most submissions. But what of the rest?

A surprising number of authors don’t know how to write queries. Some are so short (one sentence) that they give us virtually nothing to go on. Others omit essential information, such as word count, working title, or even the manuscript’s topic. Still other queries are so badly written (misspellings, mispunctuation, passive voice, boasting) that there would be no point in looking at the authors’ manuscripts. Similarly, some queries come from the clearly demented. And still other queries are insanely detailed, some running to several thousand words set in tiny, html-formatted type.

Rejected manuscripts are another matter. The ones that I find the hardest to reject are well written, have something to say, and probably wouldn’t sell enough copies to justify the hard work and expense of publication. Such submissions account for perhaps 5% of the total. In such cases, I try to recommend other publishers that might be interested, and I’ll sometimes make suggestions about both content and the initial query. I hate saying “no” to such submissions, but if I want See Sharp Press to stay in business, I have little choice.

That still leaves all too many rejected manuscripts. The primary problem with almost all of them — in addition, in most cases, to their being commercially unviable — is that they’re poorly written.

By far the most common fault is use of passive voice. Passive voice pervades present-day American English to such an extent that many, probably most, would-be published authors are blissfully unaware of it and use it incessantly. Almost certainly, many don’t even know what it is. (As writing instructor Rebecca Johnson notes, “If you can insert ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have passive voice.”)

What’s so bad about passive voice? Passive voice is vague. It allows writers to describe actions without ascribing responsibility for those actions–hence its popularity in “Pentagonese”/”corporatese.” Take, for instance, the sentence, “Fifteen hundred civilians were killed in Fallujah today,” versus “The U.S. military killed fifteen hundred civilians in Fallujah today.” Both of these sentences could truthfully describe a mass killing, but which provides more information?

Even where there is no desire to deceive, the vagueness of passive voice still leaves readers in the dark as to responsibility. For instance, the sentence, “John was beaten with a baseball bat,” invites the question, “by whom?” When you answer the question in passive voice, you end up with a lifeless sentence that is wordier than its active voice counterpart: “John was beaten with a baseball bat by Bill,” versus “Bill beat John with a baseball bat.” Nine words versus seven. And the first (passive voice) sentence makes the reader wait until its end to reveal the subject, which, along with its wordiness, robs it of vitality.

Other common problems include poor organization, incorrect use of punctuation (especially semicolons), limited use of punctuation (periods and commas only), and lack of variation in sentence structure. (Spelling problems are mostly a thing of the past, thanks to spell checkers.)

Science fiction submissions often have additional problems. The most common is that writers don’t bother to “get the science right.” It’s one thing to base a story on plausible projection of current scientific speculation; it’s quite another to blithely ignore Newtonian physics (which quite accurately describes day-to-day physical events).

In science fiction, there are always at least one or two  “gimmes”: faster-than-light travel, immortality, artificial intelligence, etc. It’s perfectly fine — in fact necessary — to use such scientific projections. But don’t rob your story of plausibility by ignoring known science or through inconsistency. Science fiction isn’t fantasy — and even in fantasy, consistency is vital.

Another very common problem with science fiction manuscripts is careless writing. Science fiction, when properly done, is harder to write than any other kind of fiction: mysteries, westerns, “literary”  or historical fiction, romance novels, etc. The reason is that sci-fi authors have to create an alternative, internally consistent world with which their readers are not familiar. Writers of other types of fiction have the huge advantage of writing against familiar backdrops; they don’t have to create them. In all too many of the science fiction submissions I read, authors seem unaware of this, and many authors don’t even strive for internal consistency. Unawareness does, in fact, probably account for most such problems; the other most likely reason is sheer laziness.

To increase your chances of selling a manuscript (to See Sharp Press or any other publisher), you’d do well to do the following: 1) Read the submission guidelines; 2) Follow them; 3) Write a query of 200 to 300 words in which you address the submissions editor by name (find it), provide the working title, describe your book, describe the potential audience, mention your previous published works (if any), tell the publisher why your book is a good fit for them, and mention any similar titles the publisher has already issued.

In your writing: 1) Produce a detailed outline before you start to write; 2) Use active voice; 3) In science fiction submissions, get the science right and strive for consistency; and 4) Edit your work several times and, if you can, have other writers go through it, too. All of this is crucial. Editors generally consider poorly written work an indication that the writer is incompetent, lazy, and/or so egotistical that he thinks it’s beneath him to clean up his own mess.

If you follow the advice in the previous two paragraphs, you’ll vastly increase your chances of finding a publisher for your book.

Good luck.

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Joke of the Day 1-27-17

Posted: January 26, 2017 in Humor, Jokes, Language Use

“Don’t you just hate rhetorical questions?”

–no idea where this came from, so let’s credit it to Anonymous


No, I’m not going to belabor the obvious. I’m not going to talk about the difference between language and lashing, between pious preaching and priestly pedophilia.

As those of you who haven’t unsubscribed might have noticed, I dropped an “F-bomb” for effect at the end of the next-to-last post.

Why? Precisely because it had an effect.

It’s still an effective means of shocking people, sometimes for the sheer sake of shock (as in that post), and sometimes for the sake of accurate portrayal of everyday language.

A few days ago I was talking with a friend who’s done construction work for decades. He recently worked on the new Mormon temple up in the foothills.

It is, of course, a monstrosity. A raised middle finger to the environment and the people of Tucson. As are all Mormon temples. (And yes, the ugliness is deliberate: they build temples according to pre-ordained plan.)

To add insult to injury, they demanded that all of the construction workers building their temple have no visible tattoos and refrain from cursing while on the job. (No, I’m not kidding.)

I asked him, “Do they have any fucking idea of what construction workers are like?”

Apparently not. (used to be one myself)

Decades ago, for an environmental organization, I canvassed the neighborhood downhill from the recently constructed Mormon temple in the Oakland foothills.  The Mormons had capped a number of springs on their property, and the water, as one would expect, found a way out, destroying several houses in the process.

The Mormons, of course, refused to admit that their tax-exempt temple was in any way responsible for the destruction of the tax-paying properties below them.

Now that’s obscene.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist pointing out the obvious.)

 

Crude Joke of the Day 12-9-16

Posted: December 9, 2016 in Humor, Jokes, Language Use

capital

(Sorry, but I do not know where this came from. Thanks to my pal Leo for passing this one along.)

Joke of the Day 11-10-16

Posted: November 10, 2016 in Humor, Jokes, Language Use

At this point, I think we can all use this. Enjoy.

grammar-joke

–from Seattle Propane’s Wallingfordsign


Years ago, I was sitting around drinking beer with my pal Abe, and we were pondering the question “What’s the most pinche thing you can think of?” as a way of coming up with the lyrics for a latin rock tune I’d written. It turned out that the most pinche thing either of us could think of was having to go to work at the crack of dawn horribly hungover. Hence, Pinche Blues. And by extension The Pinche Blues Band.

It’s a great word, and works well for the band: Mexicans think the band name is hilarious, and white folks, unless they speak Spanish, are invariably mystified by it, and will often ask what it means.

The definition I’ve used for years is this: Pinche, adj. 1) Mean, low down, dirty; 2) “Fucking” in the nonsexual sense, as in “no fucking good.” (“Pinche,” however, is milder than “fucking.”)

But here’s the best definition I’ve ever seen of the term; it’s from the Urban Dictionary. The only thing I’d note is that I hear “pinche” quite often here in Tucson, and I’ve never heard it used in sense “A,” only in senses “B” and “C”:

Spanish-language expression meaning:
a) Kitchen boy. The guys who clean up the Chef’s mess and scrub the frying pans and carry stuff around. In this context it’s still used in Spain.
b) In Mexico, it’s an all-purpose insult enhancer, which would be roughly equivalent to the use of *fucking* in English. If Jay (Silent Bob’s hetero life mate) spoke Spanish, he would say *pinche* A LOT.
Pinche is strongly associated with cursing in Mexican Spanish and the very moment you use it gives you away as a Mexican national. So you pinches gringos take that into account if you’re trying to pass for an Argentine or whatever.
c) In Mexico, it’s also used as an adjective to describe something as insignificant, lousy, miserable or worthless.
a) Se solicitan 2 pinches de cocina medio turno. (2 kitchen boys are needed for half shifts)
b) Pinche gringo culero ve a chingar a tu reputisima madre! (Fucking gringo asshole go fuck your loosecunt cocksucking mother!)
c) Tu pinche hermana está bien pinche, wey. (Your fucking sister is so fucking ugly, dude!)
by Hugh G Rection April 07, 2005