Tuesday, December 18, 2012

3T Writing Tidbit

This month I'm doing something slightly different. I've accumulated some pet peeves over the years and I'd like to set a few out now.

Ten light-years later. I shudder to admit I've actually written this. The problem? A light year measures distance, not time. If you can use feet or meters in the sentence, you can use light-year. Even if it were a time, one light year takes one year, which is redundant.

The lush strings of Chopin. The problem is, musicians read. If you're going to use a specific musical term or composer, make sure it makes sense. Yes, Chopin was a Romantic composer. But he's best known for his solo piano works. Chopin's lush strings makes about as much sense as citing a Smart car as an example of trunk space. Yes, it has a storage area but that's not what it's known for.

His voice dropped an octave. An octave is a big-assed jump, folks. And we already talk in the lower part of our range. Dropping an octave will make him sound like he's gargling used motor oil.

The tornado decimated the village. Strictly speaking, this works. But I think using the word decimate to mean annihilate loses the true flavor. Even using it "correctly", the horror of the word of the word is lost. Dictionary purists will tell you it means "one in ten". Yes. But the horror comes from which one in ten, and what happened to them. Roman armies used to punish their own troops. It was a punishment for group cowardice. The group would be forced to draw lots, and one in ten were picked. Then each man picked was bludgeoned to death by his own fellows. See, isn't that a lot worse than simple annihilation?

His face was a rictus of pain. Problem is, according to my dictionary there has to be an opening involved for a rictus. Now I learned this word it was in the sentence, His mouth was a rictus of pain and from context, I thought it meant all the muscles contorted. Well, yes, but only the mouth part. Think baby bird and its demanding breakfast. The open beak, the sustained gaping, is the rictus.

What are your pet peeves in writing?

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