Writing Tips: Avoiding Sentence Fragments.

We all know the basic elements of writing a sentence  in English: starting with a capital letter and finishing with some kind of ending punctuation appropriate to the form of the sentence, be it a statement, a question or an exclamation.

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Most people have mastered the fact that each sentence should communicate one key idea, and that they can use punctuation and conjunctions to extend that idea.

However, the use of sentence fragments is a problem I notice frequently, both as a teacher and as an avid reader. They are not the sole domain of people still learning to write: a novel I read over the weekend was littered with them, which frustrated me so much I was sorely tempted not to finish it.

A sentence fragment is a little bit of a sentences that don’t make sense on its own, and really needs either additional information or to be attached to the previous or following sentence in order to make sense.

It’s one thing to speak or send a quick text message using sentence fragments. We do it all the time without thinking twice. When writing for someone else to read our work, though, it’s important to express complete thoughts and to make sense on the first reading.

Example: I have been busy today. Writing this essay. It’s hard going.

This example sentence  fragment can be corrected it in any one of the following ways:

  • I have been busy today, writing this essay. It’s hard going.
  • I have been busy today. Writing this essay is hard going.
  • I have been busy today: writing this essay is hard going.

While it’s true that some writers use sentence fragments for stylistic effect, and may do so very effectively, it’s also true that they need to be proficient in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that they are able to make that technique work for them.  They are useful in writing conversations, communicating a train of thought, tacking on afterthoughts, or reflecting a nervous, excited or angry character.

Most people who write sentence fragments are, alas, painfully unaware that they are even doing it. Their sentence fragments don’t work for them, because they don’t communicate ideas clearly and effectively: in fact, it tends to have the opposite effect.

As writers, we should avoid anything that frustrates or confuses their readers, particularly if they hope to develop a broad and loyal readership.

This highlights the importance of careful proofreading and editing in the writing process.

One of the most effective strategies for finding sentence fragments is to read your work aloud. Your voice and ears will alert you when things don’t sound right, much faster than your eyes will discern it. This is because your brain already knows what you intended to say, and tends to make written errors almost invisible to the eye when reading silently.  

Avoiding Sentence Fragments.
#writingtips #writingadvice

Free Short Reads

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It’s Valentines Day on the weekend, and while I don’t pay a lot of attention to the day, I do think it’s a good opportunity to offer something to my readers. Think of it as a small token of my appreciation, if you will.

Among the numerous short reads over  at wordynerdbirdwrites , you’ll find the romantic poem Beloved, a romantic short story titled Montpelier, and a macabre little tale called A Curious Valentine’s Day

There are lots of other poems and stories there too, and it is all free to read. I would like to think there’s something there for every taste.

However you celebrate, or don’t celebrate, Valentine’s Day,  I hope you’ll take some time this week or over the weekend to read something that makes you smile.
I’d be super pleased if that happened to be something I wrote.

Free Short Reads
#WhatToRead #FreeReading #readAwrite

The Imagery of Persian Poetry

This fascinating article appeared on my Twitter feed this morning.

It’s healthy to be reminded that the things we do with language to make it vivid and powerful are not just the domain of the English language: indeed, to imagine so would be both insular and ignorant. Given that English is such a mutt of a language, it should be no surprise that other cultures were doing powerfully creative things with language long before we were.

When reading even just the translated excerpts in this article, the abundance of metaphor, simile, and other types of imagery in these Persian poems is evident. The language is beautiful and the poems expressive.

I’m adding some Persian poetry to my reading list. I’m keen to read more of the poets listed in the article, and to experience the beauty of the language in the work of the poets.

Consider my poetic horizons broadened!

The Imagery of Persian Poetry
#images #Persian #poetry

Word Nerdy Book Recommendations

If there’s something word nerds love, it’s word-nerdy books.

Personally, I love a great dictionary or thesaurus. I also enjoy books that explore different aspects of the English language and how we use it.

These three books are books I have particularly enjoyed over recent months.

Word Perfect by Susie Dent

This is a wonderful compilation that will please any word lover or etymology enthusiast.

Dent writes with clarity and good humour. The word for each day, and Dent’s definition and etymology of each, are interesting and quirky.

The challenge is to only read each day’s offering instead of running ahead an consuming it more quickly.

Grab a copy, keep it by your favourite chair, and enjoy a wordy treat each day. You won’t be sorry.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

This is a most interesting and entertaining book that traces the histories of words and phrases used in English.

It is a collection of most diverting rabbit holes in print: a world of fascinating information that draws you deeper in each time. Not once have I managed to look up the word or phrase I wanted to reference without discovering another entry nearby that was just as captivating as the first… or second… or third entry I had read.

It really is a treasure trove of words, etymology and history that will delight any lover of the English language.

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Usage and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

This book is a delight. With the aim of helping writers achieve greater clarity and better style, Dreyer examines the “rules” of English as we know them, and provides a clear and understandable guide to using the English language most effectively.

The book is written with humour and a relaxed tone, and delivers content that is far more accessible for the everyday reader and writer than my beloved and very worn copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, which is now far less modern than it was when I first obtained the book.

Dreyer’s English is an ideal reference for today’s writers, regardless of their preferred form or the purpose for which they write. It’s also entertaining enough to pick up and read on a Saturday afternoon, without feeling at all like it’s time you’ll never get back.

Highly recommended.

Word Nerdy #BookRecommendations
#words #language

Jolabokaflod: An Icelandic Christmas Eve Tradition For Book Lovers

A Christmas Eva tradition we are adopting for the first time this year is the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot. (Hear it here.) it means ‘Christmas book flood’ and that’s exactly what it is.

It is the practice of giving books on Christmas Eve and then going to bed and reading them.

My little pile of book gifts for the family on Christmas Eve.

The tradition began in Iceland during World War II when imports were hard to come by and paper was relatively inexpensive. The publishing industry did not operate year round, but rather swung into action toward the end of the year, and culminated in the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland, given free of charge to every home in the country. From there, people choose the books they will give their loved ones.

It’s no wonder that book lovers all over the world are looking on and thinking they’d like to get in on that action. That was certainly my response.

Sources:

Jolabokaflod: Iceland’s Christmas Eve Tradition
#ChristmasEve #jolabokafloð #booklovers

The Proud Man’s Contumely.

In Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy — the one that stars with “To be or not to be…” — the overthinking prince lists a number of problems that make life hard to bear. Most of these are things to which we can relate quite easily: oppression, love that is not returned, the wheels of justice turning too slowly, and people being rude to you.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Most people, though, would read the speech and get to the phrase ‘the proud man’s contumely’ and be completely stumped.  It’s not a word one comes across terribly often. In all honesty, it’s probably only literature scholars and high school students studying ‘Hamlet’ that are likely to come across the word, and only one of those groups are likely to know right away what it means.

Contumely is a very old word that means disrespectful, offensive or abusive speech or behaviour.

Contumely is interesting in that most English words that end in -ly are adverbs, which describe verbs, but this is a noun. It doesn’t follow the grammatical pattern of English because it is not originally an English word.

It came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word contumelie,. That came from the Latin word contumelia, which meant’ reproach’ or insult’, and is related to ‘contumax’ with means ‘haughty’ or ‘insolent’.

These days, we’re far more likely to use terms like ‘insolence’, ‘disrespect’ ‘scorn’ or  ‘abuse’ instead. 

Still, it could be fun to respond to someone’s arrogance with ‘I do not have to tolerate your contumely’. Hopefully, it would leave them as perplexed as those high school students reading Hamlet’s soliloquy for the first time.

It could also be useful to know that someone behaving with contumely would be described as contumelious.

This word evolved in the 15th century, so it follows the common pattern of the noun form being used first and the adjective coming afterwards.  Mr Darcy’s haughty dismissal of Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, a lawyer strutting and posturing in the courtroom, or one’s mother-in-law’s disdain for their general existence could all be described as contumelious.

References:
Vocabulary.com
wordsmith.org
Online Etymology Dictionary

The Proud Man’s Contumely.
#words #Shakespeare #language

The Curious Origins of the Word ‘Wuthering’ – via Interesting Literature

My love of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is no secret to anyone who knows me, nor to readers of this blog.

I was delighted to find this great post on the etymology of the word ‘wuthering’, which is definitely a word that should be more widely used!

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In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle explores the literary history of a distinctive word During the eight years I’ve been running this blog and combing every book, we…

Source: The Curious Origins of the Word ‘Wuthering’ – Interesting Literature

The Everyday Person’s Guide to Writing an Excellent Book Review

A friend asked me recently how to write a book review that goes beyond whether or not they liked and enjoyed the book.

Having posted some time ago about things to avoid when writing a book review, I thought it high time I wrote something more positive and helpful in the interests of helping people review books more confidently.

A good book review doesn’t have to be long or academic. 

Using everyday language is absolutely fine. You don’t have to write like a professional reviewer or an English teacher to write a meaningful or helpful review.

Some websites where readers post book reviews require a minimum length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick. There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t wan to. 

If you do want to write more, try these ideas: 

  • Why did you like or dislike the story?
    Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so always try to be kind. Feel free to say a book wasn’t to your taste – and try to identify why – but avoid comments like “this sucked” or “I hated it”. They are not helpful.
    Similarly, “Best. Book. Ever!” is of limited use if you don’t say why.
  • What important ideas did the story make you think about?
    Themes such as love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you or to a lot of people are helpful points for comment.
  • Were the characters likeable? Where they relatable? Why or why not? Was there something we could learn from them?
  • Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way? Were there images or word pictures that you liked? Did it make you laugh, or imagine vividly, or feel genuine emotions of one sort or another?
  • Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
  • What other kinds of people might appreciate the book? Think about interests, age group, and genres or categories here. 

Remember that every book is unique, so some things will be more

Writing about ideas like these will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time. 

This will also help you to avoid retelling or summarising the story and giving spoilers that might put prospective readers off or make them feel as if they no longer need to read the story to find out what happens.

The Everyday Person’s Guide to Writing an Excellent Book Review
#howto #readerscommunity #BookReviews

Grawlix.

Grawlix is an unusual word that most people haven’t heard of, although they’ve probably seen grawlixes many times before. 

A grawlix is a combination of symbols— most commonly the ones above the numbers on the keyboard— used in place of a offensive language in comics, cartoons and illustrations. It works as a visual, rather than verbal, euphemism.

The term was coined in the 60s by Mort Walker , the creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, although the practice had already been in use long before it was given a name.The grawlix is a clever and very effective way to express emotions like anger or frustration without actually offending anyone or causing problems with editors and censors. 

An alternative term that has been suggested is the obscenicon, which is very clever but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Time will tell, as it always does when it comes to words and language. 

Somehow, grawlix just sounds more evocative and kind of sweary in itself.

Sources:
Lexico
Merriam-Webster
Grammarphobia

 Grawlix.
#language #words #swearing #interesting #language #blogpost

What A Dictionary Does – and Does Not – Do

A dictionary is not a rule book for the language.

Image by libelulle789 on Pixabay.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about the function or purpose of a dictionary, particularly on social media. 

A good dictonary serves a number of functions:

  • Dictionaries record language as it is used. Words are added to a dictionary when they become frequently used by the people who speak the language. One can’t just make up a word and apply to have it included. It needs to become part of the commonly spoken language of the people first. 
  • Dictionaries give meanings of words. 
  • Dictionaries provide accepted spellings of words, and often include alternative spellings. This varies according to the country of publication, particularly when it comes to the differences between English and American spellings of words. 
  • Dictionaries often give advice as to how a word should be pronounced. This too will vary according to common usage in the country in which the dictionary is published. Some dictionaries use the regular alphabet to achieve a phonetic respelling, while others use the International Phonetic Alphabet
  • Online dictionaries do all that, and also offer voice recordings to demonstrate pronunciation. They also provide direct links to thesaurus entries and related words. 
  • Dictionaries can also settle arguments. They are helpful in adjudicating spelling games such as Scrabble, and settling arguments about how a word is spelt or what it means. 
Image by PDPics on Pixabay

There are, however, things that dictionaries neither seek nor claim to do. 

  • A dictionary is not a rule book for the language. Just because a word isn’t in the dictionary does not actually mean that it’s not a word. If people say it, and other people understand it when they do, it’s a word. 
  • An Australian dictionary is not useful for recording American English, and vice versa.
  • A dictionary generally doesn’t give the etymology of a word, although it might suggest that it’s an old, obsolete or archaic word.
    There are etymological dictionaries that do this, but they are far less popular than the regular kind of dictionary with which most people are familiar. Some etymological dictionaries are specific to a particular area of study, while the Online Etymological Dictionary is a vast resource of the history of a plethora of English words and phrases.
  • A dictionary generally won’t include words that have fallen out of use. In the large dictionary on my desk at home, words like ‘forswunk’ and ’trustful’ are no longer included, while they would have been many years ago. It doesn’t mean they are no longer words: it simply means the likelihood of someone wanting to look them up is considered far less than someone wanting to look up ‘exhausted’ or ‘melancholy’ instead. 

What’s the best dictionary to use? 

Most people will find the greatest value in a dictionary which is compiled, written and published in the country in which they live and work. Most people will want one that is up to date. 

One of the two editions of the Macquarie Dictionary I own.

For Australian English, I love the Macquarie Dictionary.
For UK English, there is nothing that surpasses the Oxford English Dictionary, but the Cambridge English Dictionary is very good, too.

I have no preferred dictionary for American English, because I don’t use one. (If you can make a recommendation, please leave a comment!)

Old dictionaries hold particular appeal for scholars, teachers and lovers of language. They can be invaluable resources for authors and readers, too.