Tag Archives: grammar

The Word of the Day: Tmesis

12 Nov
"These tmesis words are un-freakin'-believable!"

“These tmesis words are un-freakin’-believable!”

I don’t think I’ve done a “word of the day” before, but maybe we should start doing that. Every now and then I run into a word that stops me in my tracks. And today, that word is TMESIS. Damn, that’s a hot word. It is a word that is interrupted, or broken up, by another word. Although it has its roots in very old Greek and Latin, our beautiful and modern English language does it quite well. It is un-fucking-believable how common it is. (Aha! See what I did there?)

This came to my attention when I read something only tangentially related. I could point to several different instances of it, in colloquial use of course, but our language is so fluid and ever-changing. There will always be possible variations of this kind of grammar-bending. The best use that I’ve seen is “a whole nother thing”: the word ‘whole’ is just dropped, rudely, into the middle of ‘another’. It is abso-fucking-lutely beautiful.

Like many weird aspects of our language, we employ it every day, without noticing. Any time you have an odd verb that is just clinging in there on its own, chances are good that tmesis is in play. So, “turn it off” or “turn it up” or “turn down for what?” or whatever. I’m amazed that I’ve never noticed this beautiful element of our mother tongue before. And because I’m kind of in love, it gets to be my first ‘Word of the Day.’ Enjoy!

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I Accidentally A Word

21 Apr
blind spot

blind spot

 

Why does this happen to me? I’m good to my loved ones. I brush my teeth before I go to bed, every night. I even eat my vegetables. What did I do to earn this terrible curse? “What curse?” you ask? Well, let me tell ya… it’s the second worst affliction that you can suffer as a writer: the blind spot. (I don’t wanna talk about the worst affliction right now; it’s a sore subject)

At least, that’s what I call it. It’s an error so glaringly obvious that you’d have to be blind to miss it. And yet, that’s exactly what happens. I’ll be in the middle of a story and write something like:

“Jerry walked up to window,” he said.

Which should have read:

“Jerry walked up to the window,” he said.

I do this kind of thing all the time and it drives me insane. The real horrible part is that I’ll miss it on my first read-through. Hell, I might end up missing it every time. I once left this kind of error in, only to find it after the work had gone to press.

It’s embarrassing enough, even when no one else will read it. Imagine how terrible it feels when you include in something that is for sale. “Yes, please, pay me money for my idiotic typos.” I’m sure it is understandable – forgivable even – but it feels SO very bad to do.

At least some of the time, these blind spots will be caught by the grammar check in your word processor. But there have been plenty of times that I have blown right by the squiggly green lines under my words. I’m sure we’ve all had that kind of arrogant reaction, “Oh, Word – you just don’t understand my cool, hip grasp of the English language.” Well, maybe it’s just me. I do spend an awful lot of time talking at my computer…

The blind spot will happen to me, over and over. I’ll find one, squash it, only to find another in my next read-through. It gets so bad in longer manuscripts that I want to break down and cry. I get paranoid too, which only magnifies the problem. In fact, I’m pretty certain there a few hiding in this rant I’ve written. I have to force myself to go on, to ignore the impulse to review and edit right this minute. It’s tough.

I’m sure it’s all due to pattern recognition. The act of mental closure helps our minds fill in those gaps. It’s why you can read those stupid chain emails from your grandma. You know, the ones that go: “If yuo cna raed tshi yuo aer srmat.” Yeah. You feel pretty clever when you plow through that. It’s not so nice when you send the protagonist of your novel says, “What is problem man?” Grr.

If you’re like me, and you’ve carried out this kind of self-diagnosis, what can you do? How does a writer recover from – or compensate for – this kind of weird ailment? I have found only two things that help.

1. Readers: Whether it’s your significant other, or your mom, or your writing group, you need people to read your stuff. If you can arrange it so your proof-readers are helpful to your editing process, you are living a charmed life.

2. Inertia: You have to keep on, keeping on – as they say. Do NOT stop writing, even when you see these terrible… ‘goggins’ rear their ugly heads. Shut that internal editor up and keep writing. Tell yourself that you can fix it later.

I know that not all writers have this problem, but I bet all of us have similar issues. Some of my best friends can’t spell correctly to save their lives. Hell, even I rely on spell-check more than I should. Others have bad habits with sentence structure, or the way characters speak. And the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad truth about all of it is this: We are probably stuck with these problems. We can tame them to a certain extent, but I fear these faults are just a part of us.

Well, they’re a part me, I should say. I assume that everyone struggles, because my fragile ego couldn’t handle the existence of a perfect author. And I’m neurotic/cynical enough to believe that I’ll never kick my problems entirely.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because I don’t think we find meaning or purpose in ‘perfection’ but in the pursuit of perfection. It’s not the destination that’s important, it the journey.

φ

*Yes, I meant to do that.