Definitions, and Nouns vs. Adjectives vs. Verbs

In today’s Journal

* Welcome
* Offbeat Definitions
* Nouns vs. Adjectives vs. Verbs: A Rant
* Of Interest
* The Numbers


Welcome to Madhuri T, Emma(?) and any other new subscribers or readers of the Journal. I hope you will find it useful.

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Oh, and check out this half-hour video where bestselling author Vin Zandri and I are chatting about writing at The Writer’s Life.

Offbeat Definitions

I’ve been writing new definitions for new words occasionally. Usually these words pop up as “typos” in my fiction. So they’re all directly from my characters and my creative subconscious.

But as I catch them during cycling, if they make sense and if a definition if one presentes itself, I stop and scribble it down, then go back to the novel.

Here are a few. The first two are brand new. The third comes from the title of a short story collection, Strainge Stuff:

cantaloupeé, n. a toupeé or hairstyle that looks like a helmet

converstation, n. in business buildings, most often the water cooler

strainge, adj. strange to the point of straining the brain.

Nouns vs. Adjectives vs. Verbs: A Rant

I’ve been noticing an alarming (to me) propensity to use adjectives as nouns.

This weird new foible follows on the heels of writers using nouns as verbs: For example, using “gift” (a noun) as a verb to replace “give” for some strange reason. I suspect most people do it to sound cool or some such nonsense.

Some poor 20-something uttering “Ooh, Mom gifted me a new car for graduation” makes as much sense as “Ooh, Mom potatoed me (or “rivered me” or “mountained me” or “bicycled me” or another “nouned me”) a new car.

But it isn’t only young folks. It’s older people passing along their own ignorance.

In fact, saw a new example of the noun-becoming-verb misuse-but-now-accepted-(for some stupid reason)-use in a blog post by an esteemed jurist yesterday morning.

In the opening line of his post, he wrote, “We have been discussing the latest Irish law to crackdown on free speech.”

I had respected this man and his opinions. But I deleted the email and unsubscribed from the newsletter. If he’s that ignorant despite all his education, I don’t want to risk what I might pick up through osmosis.

What he intended to convey was the verb “crack down,” meaning strenuously regulate. A “crackdown” (noun) is the implementation of that verb. I guess it’s just easier to omit the space.

Know what? If you’re that fatigued, you should probably be sleeping, not typing.

But more and more often I see writers use “backyard” or “backseat” (both adjectives) as the noun that descrbes a place: the back yard or the back seat.

If you’re fortunate, you might have a backyard swing in the back yard.

If you’re unfortunate, you might have a backseat driver in the back seat of your car.

You can come up with other examples on your own.

This isn’t an earthshaking problem. But for a writer, having a thorough understanding of the language, the primary tool of the writer’s profession, should be a matter of simple pride.

A writer misusing the language (except intentionally to create a certain effect in the reader) is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver.

If I ever see in a “professional” writer’s work a backyard swing in the backyard or a backseat driver in the backseat I think my head might explode.

Not because the mangled usage bothers me that much. But because how can anyone who calls him- or herself a professional writer — or a writer at all — NOT know, or at least strive to learn, the language better than that?

As for those who shrug and say something stupid (and lazy) like, “The reader will know what I mean” — first, how do you know what the reader will or won’t do? But second, that isn’t the point.

The point is, you’re the writer. It’s your job to convey your intention clearly so the reader won’t have to decipher anything.

I’ve mentioned here before that the abbreviated word “’til” is now considered archaic. Silly usage dictates that if you want to shorten the word “until,” you don’t (do not) simply insert an apostrophe. You add an L and make it “till.” Which, by the way, is already taken.

“Till” is already a noun (cash drawer) or a verb (turn over soil with a plow or “tiller).

Besides, “till” and “’til” are pronounced exactly the same way. So this is a phonetics spelling problem (the writer’s problem) not a matter for dictionaries to take up. If a character means to truncate “until” in dialogue, it should be “’til.”

And of course, it makes absolutely no sense to these folks to insert that apostrope and simply shorten “until” to “’til.” Too obvious, i guess. Besides, why bother with straining to find the apostrophe on a keyboard when you can just repeat the last consonant instead, eh?

By that reasoning, I suppose we might as well all start writing the shortened form of “do not” as “dontt” and “is not” as “isntt” and — well, I’m sure you take my pointt.

Oh, oops. That one wasn’t a contraction. But itss all good. The readerlll know what I mean.

So I guess that would make the short form of “I will” “Illl” and “should have” “shouldvee.” Wow. The irregular contraction for “should not have” will become “shouldnttvee.” Cool!

I personally mark-up this new inane habit to either laziness or learned ignorance.

All of that said, you dontt have to email me. I do understand Illl have to put up with it until I get the sweet release of eternal sleep.

Why? Because oddball changes like this always go unchecked except in tiny corners like mine. Which, of course, have plenty of detractors and make only the slightest bit of difference. Maybe. Sometimes.

Over time, changes in language due to ignorance become the norm as the people who know better die off and people who don’t know better say “Well, the reader will know what I mean.”

Then the latter go on to serve as professors at a universities and pass on their ignorance to a whole new generation of teachers.

In the meantime, for the sake of clarity, I will still correct such inanities it in any new copyedits I conduct, and it will (or itlll) never make its way into my own writing, fiction or nonfiction.

I hope, for the sake of your own sense of self, you will do the same.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

The AI Boom Could Use a Shocking Amount of Electricity

The Danger of E-Skimmers I recommend subscribing to this site.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1120

Writing of Blackwell Ops 15: Soleada Garcia

Day 1…… 3034 words. To date…… 3034
Day 2…… 4389 words. To date…… 7423

Fiction for December…………………… 13912
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 414746
Fiction since August 1………………… 300201
Nonfiction for December……………… 43100
Nonfiction for the year……………… 259890
Annual consumable words………… 671129

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 9
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 7
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 80
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 235
Short story collections…………………… 31

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Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

4 thoughts on “Definitions, and Nouns vs. Adjectives vs. Verbs”

  1. I’ll also point out that English is a living language; it changes all the time. Some changes I like and some I don’t (“gift” as a verb is particularly annoying), but I don’t have the power to direct the changes.

    I guess the point is…can we *know* that it’s the writer’s/editor’s ignorance, or might it be part of the ongoing evolution of the language?

    • It’s ALWAYS part of the evolution of the language, whether from ignorance or pronunciation/spelling of a particular culture or some dweeb like me making up new words. But in every case, professional writers should guard against that evolution and the evolution itself should be hard won, not simply accepted outright. I saw in a newsletter this morning one dictionary’s Word of the Year is “rizz.” Wrap your head around that.

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