Saturday, October 31, 2009

Yukky Words, Style Choices and Doing It Your Way

Those of you who are subscribed to my Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog may skip this post because it appeared there awhile ago. I am posting it here again partially because I want you to know that blog is available to you as a resource but also because I think of great editing as an essential part of your marketing plan. Obviously you can't sell your book to an agent or a publisher if your query letter or manuscript isn't making a good impression. I also think of this essay as a bit of inspiration for getting creative with words.

Yukky Words, Style Choices and Doing It Your Way

My idol or grammar and style June Casagrande is at it again.
In her syndicated column "A Word Please," she puts people on notice that she thinks a word like "incentivized" is pretty yukky, but goes on to say that it is still a word. In fact, two of the three dictionaries she checked listed it as a word. She points out that similar words like "prioritize" were once considered yukky, too. Who knew?

Often our attitudes about words are a matter of taste. I don't like words like "signage" or "usage" much either. Generally the words without the "age" prefixes would do just well without them. That makes them feel sort of wordy or redundant me. But that's my taste. That doesn't make them right or wrong.

Our language changes. And we're the ones who make it change. Further, as a poet, I value that we can make up our own words. Oh, OK. Sometimes as a nonfiction writer I value it, too.

I like the word "snoof" and it certainly isn't in my dictionary. You can probably guess what it means, even out of context. In my poems, I often push words together to make one. Both the English and the German languages do this a lot. The Germans do it even more than we do. I love the word "fingerhut" in German, as an example. It means "thimble" but literally, it means "finger hat."

Heck, I reason, English is a Germanic language so don't even try to tell me I can't do it. I can. And I will. And you can, too.

An example of when I've done it with nonfiction is "frontmatter." Word gives it a read squiggle and it isn't in any dictionary I checked as a single word. But it refers to the front pages in a book and taken as a whole, those pages are a kind of entity unto themselves. (Ditto for "backmatter.") So, in The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success( , I chose to shove them together. Once one decides to do that kind of thing, though, one needs to stick with it. It becomes a style choice for that particular book. So, I hope that those of you with copies of The Frugal Editor enjoy the segments on editing frontmatter and backmatter and have figured out what I'm doing with those words.

Some of you in possession of The Frugal Editor may also be saying, "Yeah, but in that book you said to stick with the rules and the most common style choices. You said that when we are writing query letters and book proposals and manuscripts, and are looking for a publisher or an agent, we won't want to give them any reason to think we don't know what we're doing. You said . . . "

Yep, in that book I advise zero tolerance. There's a time in life to be adventurous and times not to. When in doubt and when your writing career is at stake, best to play it safe.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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