Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Language Nazis

Hopping like Peter Rabbit down the blogger trail I came across Farmer McGregor t'other day.
AKA a language nazi.
No carrot, a real stick.
Who claimed that a certain writer used Bad Grammar.
A writer who sometimes posts on this blog.
A writer who was identifiable by a phrase lifted from their profile.
Their sin? Their gastly sin? Their misfeasance againt the Rules That Govern This World?
The writer used sentence fragments.
Oh. The horror. O tempora! o mores!
I doubletaked. Took.
My maternal instincts were aroused.
Sometime back in the Pleistocene Period - if it wasn't the Cretaceous - good little students were indeed told one must Never Use sentence fragments. They must write in Compleat Sentences and be Korrect and Klear. As a matter of fact, they got quite pissy about using capitals in the middle of a sentence as well.
But we're not in Grade Nine anymore.
I'm all for the judicious use of sentence fragments.
They are an effective tool, used skillfully, to provide pacing and emphasis. To separate and focus images in the reader's mind like a series of frames from a still camera. To cue in humor.
Sentence fragments don't construe lazy and/or ignorant construction. Often, the opposite.
Further, anyone reasonably literate can distinguish between deliberate use and that by a writer who doesn't know any better.
Language needs rules. Guides. Particularly written language. But a language that does not alter and expand petrifies.
We all have our little hates, I suppose.
I despise the use of "firstly."


Sandra Ruttan said...

I was going to be a smarta$$ and post all in sentence fragments. Then I thought maybe one, long run-on sentence. Then I just thought I'd post the way I usually do. Rambling incohesiveness. Ooops, sentence fragment.

I allow a lot of leniency on blog posts. In a way, they're just like casual conversation. I see real authors posting with typos gallore but I don't care. And it shows me that their focus is also on the content, the forum of communicating with others, not on showcasing their literary talents. That's what their published books are for.

Not all forms of writing call for the same adherence to "the rules". It may be true that some writing...medical journal articles, for example, might not lend themselves to the use of sentence fragments. Or slang.

But what separates a good writer from a great writer, IMHO, is knowing when to break "the rules" and how to break "the rules" to make your writing more effective.

I have seen this, in criticisms in my own work from people about POV changes in a scene. Yet pull down International Best-selling Book by author of 22 novels and you find a POV change in a scene. The difference? The execution. The reader isn't confused, they follow it perfectly and it maximizes the effectiveness of the scene.

People who want to spew criticism on other writers for their work should always remember that some day, it might be them. As writers we open ourselves to criticism and complaint the moment we produce work people can read, whether its published in a magazine, an ezine or a blog. This is why 99% of the time I'll say a book didn't work for me, but I won't go on record saying I hated it. I'm always mindful of how much I've learned in my writing and I hope I've demonstrated improvement, and people who want to run around judging other people had better be spot-on with their own stuff so that they've no room for criticism.

But people who are petty and judgmental and publicly bashing...I remember those names. And, being rather obsessive about buying 95% of the books I read, I won't buy their book if I have a really negative impression of them. One thing for me to be a die-hard fan of someone and discover 10 books in they're a jerk. But knowing someone irritates me from the get-go? That's a major impediment to ever reading their stuff.

Erik Ivan James said...

Thanks for defending me, whether or not it was about me. As I meander through the various blogs and read from the intellect typically posted, I realize every day what a looooooooog way I have to travel in my writing skills---grade nine, shit, I ain't even in preschool yet.

Very well said.

Bernita said...

Oh, WELL put, Sandra.

I thought of the run-on sentences too and decided I wouldn't bother and maybe save it for some other time if the spirit moved me to write about it but my impulse was the same.

Of course,part of my ire is the result of believing the targeted writer has excellent skills.
That writer's choice of sentence fragments for a particular short story reflected the emotional disturbance of the main character.
The writer does not use them indiscriminately - as I do on this blog.
Perhaps if the critic had read a few more posts they might have realized that.

Bernita said...

Erik, you WILL get there.You're a lot closer than you think.
I have learned so much in just the few months I have been blogging.

Sela Carsen said...

Gargh. I've met people like that. Folks who search determinedly for every -LY ending. Folks who believe the word WAS, no matter its context, is indicative of passivity. Gargh!!

I like using fragments. And I like starting sentences with "and" and "but." As long as I can tell the difference between someone writing something because they don't know any better and someone who breaks the rules to make a point, I'll go along with the flow. Hey, I'm easy. ;)

Er, we should maybe not let my dh in on that. *gg*

Bernita said...

Sentence fragments used appropriately can create electric prose, IMHO.

Ric said...

Does this fall under the "IF you don't have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut" rule?

Back last summer, I posted the first page of my novel on Miss Snark's Crapometer. I was savaged by many readers "pretentious" melodramatic "bad poetry" - however, Miss Snark liked it - among the few she did.... so there.

I think it's okay to point out things that don't work for you - i.e. Bernita's use of random capitol letters (sorry) but hopefully not in a way that's going to get everyone's knickers in a knot.

Be nice, people. You're going to need your fellow bloggers to BUY your book.

Bernita said...

No, Ric, it doesn't fall under the "if you can't say something nice" rule.
It falls under the reasoned objection rule.
One may not care for Sci-Fi, for example - to pick a frequent target - but Sci-Fi is not bad because you don't care for it.
Sentence fragments are not evidence of incompetent writing, grossly amateur, and "bad" grammar because of some assumed immutable rule. A rule, I might add, which is twenty or thirty years out of date for fiction.
You don't care for emphatic capitals because you find them distracting - a reasonable objection.
If I remember correctly, my entry made Miss Snark want to stand on her chair and scream.
My thinking at the time was also perhaps twenty or thirty years out of date.

Rick said...

Any link to the whiner's site, so I can go take a look?

Bernita said...

No, Rick. Won't.
Because then I would be doing the same thing that blogger did - identifying another writer for possible ridicule.
Rants should be attached to the general fault/error/irritation/grass-fire-about-this-high. Not the specific writer.
You're right on about one thing, though, it was a VERY whiney post.

Rick said...

You are a lady.

Sentence fragments should be used judiciously, like most spices, and I'm perhaps a bit more given to them than I should be. I also have a weakness for semicolons, which I keep in a handy jar like M&Ms.

I'm reminded of a general law postulated over at Language Log:


I forget the name attached to the law, but it states in essence that posts or articles calling attention to (real or supposed) grammar or spelling errors will invariably turn out to have at least one such error themselves.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Sandra...tell us what you really think...LOL...Some people just take themselves too seriously to be considered as a member of normal society and I would like to see them in a real face to face conversation interjecting periods and commas into the conversation...Uh, Oh...A Run On Sentence.

Chalk it up to the affliction called AR (Anal Retentive)

M. G. Tarquini said...

Man. Don't piss off Sandra.

Or Bernita.


Sentence Fragment Alert.

Likewise random use of CAPITAL LETTERS.

I have this vision of us all running to check our profiles to ensure there's a noun and verb in each sentence...

On no. An ellipsis.

I don't think it was me getting skewered by the mysterious grammarian.

This time.

Oops again.


Forgot the capital at the beginning.

Need coffee.


Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick.
My weaknesses are too numerous to mention and painfully obvious.
I have observed that sweet law in operation.

Made me want to run through all its posts looking for grammar mistakes, Bonnie, but I refrained.

It was not in the profile, M.G. The writer was identifiable by profile. The complaint was lodged against a charming story on a blog.I had to go check to see if there really were sentence fragments used. Because I didn't notice them.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I had to go check to see if there really were sentence fragments used. Because I didn't notice them.

Bad mysterious grammarian. Bad bad. If nobody notices a sentence fragment in a forest, is it really there?

Bernita said...

~platitude duel here~
The party of the first part couldn't see a forest if it was lost in it, let alone a falling tree.

M. G. Tarquini said...

The party of the first part couldn't see a forest if it was lost in it, let alone a falling tree.


Bad grammar alert. Failure to make proper use of the subjunctive. And using it for people.

...if she or he were lost in it...

10 demerits. Throw 2000 complete and grammatically correct sentences into the community chest.

Then die of boredom reading them.

Bernita said...

I reserve the right - for the purposes of protective obscurity - to designate the offending party( the party of the first part aforementioned) as "it."

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay Bonnie, I will tell you what I really think!

Sorry, I get carried away...just every now and again something really rankles with me, and this is one of my major pet peeves. Right alongside people who go on amazon posting things like, "Stuart MacBride is an illiterate hack. I read Ian Rankin..."

Like that somehow validates their opinion. Stuart's a brilliant writer and so is Ian Rankin, and they have very different styles. Thank God. Or wouldn't every book be a replica of the last and ultimately not worth reading if there weren't different styles, different voices, to enjoy?

I've seen people go on forums and say all kinds of rude things and it just bothers me. And I also know a lot of writers, like Stuart, within my genre and the one thing I never see any of the authors doing is slagging someone else in their sphere. People pay attention to stuff like that. At least I do. I've had the occasin to meet authors who've made a positive personal impression on me and consequently gone and bought their book. So the reverse can also be true.

Sorry for hijacking your blog Bernita.

Bernita said...

Sandra, I'm too busy cheering to notice I was a hostage.
I LIKE to see comments such as yours forceful, articulate, and direct.
Any time, m'dear.

MissWrite said...

AMEN. Fragments, used sparingly, are great effect tools. Some people need to get the sticks outta their... ahem, you know whats.

We're not writing grammar workbooks, we're writing fiction. Pleasant reads need vernacular that is close to actual speech patterns--which DO NOT follow the rules most times, while still adhering to structure enough as to not be convoluted.

Bernita said...

Another vote for the dark side.
Thank you, Miss Write!

"These fragments I have shorn against my ruin."

R.J. Baker said...

Damn, I freely admit it. It could be me. I use frags when they fit. do you tell a painter not to use black? A musician not to use a minor discordant note? WTF.

Tell a good F'n story and get on with it. If you do it will sell and then the critics can rip you appart. You'll be keeping some very good company.

Bernita said...

I would be surprised to find many fiction writers these days who do NOT make use of the occasional sentence fragment, R.J.

Dennie McDonald said...

all I can say is that dude needs to get a life - if picking on sentence fragments is the highlight of his/her/it's life...

Now I shall crawl back into my book-dom hole and contunue to ... do whatever it is I do - LOL

Bernita said...

I think that was truly the problem, Dennie.
And Dennie, we know what you're doing...staring at a beautiful cover.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

ROFLMAO...Sandra, you crack me up...I want you on my team in a debate..woowoo!!!

This is a great...We've got torches and a rope...let's string 'em up (sentences that it...LOL)

If you think this castration is fun, wait till you see what I do to the person who tagged me today.

Oops! Sorry Ric, Rick, Eric and R.J!

Gabriele C. said...

Sheesh, some people need a life. Really. So, Guy Gavriel Kay uses fragments, Bernard Cornwell has more 'was' on one page than I have in an entire novel and Tolkien indulges in adverbs. Any problem with that? I don't have one, I like their books.

I have cut down on the 'was' in my writing, not because it's some friggin' gramma rule, but because it works with my style. I use alliterations, though. And start sentences with prepositions. Or end them with. I have a few fragments, too, and yesterday I found an adverb. Not to mention I often write in the Forbidden Omniscient (TM). Will I ever get published?

Gabriele C. said...

Oh, and no one messes with Stuart. He'll send them Skeleton Bob's cold. Or some poisoned Haggis. Or poke fun at them in an evil, snarky blog entry.

Bernita said...

We are so on the same page, Gabriele!
I am particularly fond of alliteration.

Bonnie! Put down that can of gasoline! The shears too...yes, those, the pinking shears... slowly, slowly, that's right, hand them over now.

Anonymous said...

My maternal instincts were aroused.

Someone picking on one of your "children?" ;)

Bernita said...

That's the way I felt, Jason.

Muse said...

Sentience fragments.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Pinking shears!!! What a fabulous idea...Ragged little jagged points....Muahaha!!!

Rick said...

Wrathy. I like that. Very Anglo-Saxon.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I use alliterations, though.

Gabriele, Bernita, I adore alliteration. While studying Chaucer, I discovered why - it's the old way of poetry, similar beginning sounds. Works so nicely with the English Language, which has so much Germanic influence. or maybe AS influence. Whatever. I got such a kick out of making the connections. Like I'd invented something.

Bernita said...

Bonnie and the Temple of Seamless Death...
Bonnie and the Sexing Tool...
Bodacious Bonnie Gets Revenge...
Bonnie and the Unkindest Cut...
It's early but I'm stumbling towards a great porn/slasher title here...

Bernita said...

Clever, Muse. Clever Muse.

Study of A-S corrupted me, Rick - even my handwriting - and imprinted a propensity, seduced me by style, and left me with a liking for alliteration, M.G

M. G. Tarquini said...

Have to admit, the word beswican caught my eye. I'm something of a romance linguist, so this kind of thing fascinates me. Learning middle englisshe for the Chaucer is so interesting to me. It's the same but it's not. Yet when I look at the roots, it makes sense. The combo of germanic and romance on English has always fascinated me.

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