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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 gaped**—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?

**From 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.

12 Comments »

  • I think I’ve spilled everything but comfort 😀 But I might have even done that. I understand why it happens — trying to find new ways of describing the same things we’ve heard described a million times can lead to experimenting with words and phrases … and sometimes, those experiments can lead to phrases that are more WTF? than fantastic and original.

    Most of the time, either I or my editors (my editor or copy editor) catch the stuff that’s annoying repetitive. But there are still things that slip through and make me cringe.

    One of my more recent irritations is something I’ve noticed (primarily) in HPs: the endless and all-inclusive sentence. A recent example — “Without realising it, he had let the short snarl of bitter laughter escape from his lips as a real sound and the woman slumped beside him on the back seat of the powerful car stirred briefly from the silence into which she had lapsed after the total outpouring of grief and lifted her head to look at him, her eyes just pools of shadow in a white face.”

    …on the other hand, that sentence is kind of awe-inspiring. Despite all of the unnecessary wordage, it’s completely understandable. No mean feat, that.

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  • Oooo, I love talking prose styles, AztecLady! (“Slabs of muscle”–oy, that had me rockin’ in my chair! It’s a kind of Dahmerish image.)

    Actually, no word bothers me too terribly much unless it’s a.) misused, b.) too hyperbolic for its context, or c.) repeated ad nauseum. People do gape–hell, I’ve done it myself–and, infrequently, gasp.

    Like Meljean said, it’s damned hard to write about similar features/feelings/actions/reactions over and over again without making some stretch for originality. Stilted dialogue and wooden narrative annoy me far more than the occasional verbal ballet or tap dance.

    Dialogue tags and descriptions of sexual interaction and body parts all, I think, lay the thinnest ice in front of a writer. I’ve read a lot of these that just make my teeth crack . . . or make me crack up. Then again, I’ve read tags and descriptions that are so startlingly unique, I’m impressed by them. An adroit wordsmith can fashion rhapsody from what would be rubbish in clumsier hands.

    I have a strong aversion to c**t (actually, there are two icky words disguised by those asterisks) and don’t understand why so many publishers embrace them. On the other hand, I don’t mind most slang terms for “penis” or “semen”, unless they’re over-the-top.

    If y’all want some laughs over horrific wording, visit the Weeping Cock site. I go there once in a while when my office chair’s leather needs a little pee to condition it!

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  • “Music to my/his/her ears.”

    This has been used by many authors I admire, and it bugs me every time.

    In a regency erotic romance I read not long ago, the author invariably used the word fuck, both in dialogue and narrative, to describe the act. e.g. “That was a great fuck.” “He was always hungry after a fuck.” It was never “making love” or even “having sex” or “taking her” just “a fuck”. That one word choice kept pulling me out of what was otherwise a very hot and emotionally intense story, and yeah, I kept wondering where the heck the editor was.

    My own editor has gotten after me over repeatedly using certain words in place of “cl*toris”. With her help I’ve managed to nip most of those pesky “pearls” and “nubs” in the, ahem…”bud”.

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  • Ditto what Meljean/K.Z. — sometimes trying to find a fresh new way of saying the same ole thang results in new lows of ludicrousness. For awhile there ‘his cock twitched’ was a pet peeve of mine, but I think it have more to do with overuse and how the sentence/paragraph was structured to include it, than having it truly pulling me out. The same could be said for any other graphic terms re genitalia/sexual activities.

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  • Ah, dialogue tags. I once collaborated with a man who played with his thesaurus too much and never met a “said” he couldn’t turn into a “quipped,” “enunciated” or “smirked.”

    Said is basic and invisible. There are times for shouting and yelling, times for whispering and sighing. But unless you are Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, I seriously doubt there are too many occasions for quipping.

    Sex scenes are tough though. Although cock feels nice and neutral, it gets boring. I ended up at Weeping Cock for using the phrase “Eve’s Tempter.” And there are no good words for the ladies. (typing “her cock” is one of the more cognitively dissonant experiences of my life)

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  • Dawn
    July 28
    12:30 pm

    I spent most of the start of this post watching that little box and going “Yes, yep, YES DAMMIT!”.

    So many of these really tweak me. But for the life of me I can’t think of any that I’ve read recently.

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  • Recently came across blaze in a historical romance. How do you blaze a sentence?!?

    Say is a nice, innocuous little verb.

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  • Robin
    July 29
    7:11 am

    The hero in one book I read had a “huge club-like manhood,” which just struck me as both unappealing and awkwardly expressed. What’s he going to do with it — beat the heroine over the head as if she were a baby seal?

    Of course he also had those “slabs” of muscle, so I guess I was supposed to discern some potent combination of man meat and weaponry.

    Clearly I am not the right reader for such a character.

    The worst for me, though, is complex action scenes. I have very poor spatial intelligence, so it’s difficult for me to mentally reproduce the choreography of many of those scenes as I’m reading them. So it’s sometimes difficult for me to know whether they’re badly described or I am just poorly equipped to apprehend everything that is going on. Usually I think it’s a bit of both.

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  • Gina
    July 30
    1:18 am

    One of my biggest peeves is exclamation points. If a character shouts “Fire!” then fine, okay. Not a problem. But conveying surprise! or excitement! or joy! with exclamation points will causes me to chuck a book across the room, especially if it is used outside of the dialogue. Nothing throws me out of a story more, especially when there is at least one on every single page.

    Oh, and when a character sneers. I’ve never seen a sneer. What does it look like? I keep picturing Billy Idol whenever I read it. Drives me bananas.

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  • Gina, this is a sneer.
     
    http://www.100monkeystyping.com/wlog/sneer.jpg

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  • Gina
    July 30
    4:57 am

    Huh. Hard to believe, but that’s worse than what I was picturing.

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  • I can’t stand:

    tumescence
    manroot
    the phrase ” he was thicker around than my wrist”. like that sh*t would fit in any HUMAN woman’s vagina.

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