Chinese Water Torture   12 comments

What are your pet peeves when it comes to grammar and spelling?


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It’s the Little Things

Oh, yes, it’s that little drip-drip-drip that drives us crazy in grammar as much as in our bedroom when we’re trying to sleep.

There’s a gap in the gutters of our house where the chimney climbs the outside wall and it allows a small section of roof where moisture can roll from a higher roof onto the garage, where it strikes the flashing for the chimney. This is just the other side of our bedroom wall from our pillows.

This time of year (or if it’s raining), it’s a drip-drip-drip-drip water feature that isn’t unpleasant. It’s like sleeping next to a small waterfall. But we had a cold night and the drips slowed to drip … drip … drip … urgggh. You know what I mean. Chinese Water Torture.

Grammar can be like that too. There are things that just drive me crazy, but they’re usually small and repeated over and over and over and over ….

Alright Isn’t

“All right.” That’s the only correct way to write that term in formal English — that includes in a novel — unless you’re writing an accent. It’s not “alright”. It could be “a’ight” or “allight” if you’re writing that accent, but if you’re not trying to recreate a eubonics or redneck accent in your novel, use “all right.” Please.

Pause and Think

Overuse of the word “that”. It’s a journalism thing. Back in the day, newspapers had to set type by hand and paper and ink weren’t cheap, so there were words we wanted to eliminate as unnecessary. “That” is just such a word. Often the use of “that” is perfectly grammatical, but if you’re following a principle of omitting needless words, leave out the “that.”

Cautiously. Although “that” is optional a lot of the time, you can’t assume it’s optional wherever you see it. Sometimes it’s mandatory. And even when it’s optional, it’s sometimes still a good idea to keep it.

So, when I see “that” in someone else’s writing (and most especially when I read my own writing), I circle back to it and ask “it is necessary.” Most common verbs (such as “say”, “think”, “know”, “claim”, “hear”, “believe”) are bridge verbs and don’t need “that” Non-bridge verbs carry extra meaning. An example of the verb “whisper”, which carries descriptive meaning in the verb. It sounds odd to say, “He whispered he wanted another root beer” instead of “He whispered that he wanted another root beer.” Not crashingly bad, but just a little off.

Newspapers often ignore the difference between bridge verbs and non-bridge verbs and delete a “that” after verbs where it would sound better to leave it in. Which also bugs me.

Kinda of Creepy

It’s the little things that usually drive me crazy. My biggest one isn’t actually a grammar thing. It’s a logic thing. My teeth grind when writers write things about people’s eyes “dwelling” on someone, or “being on the floor”, or “turned out the window.”

Uh, no! The character’s eyes need to stay in their head where eyeballs belong. Their gaze can dwell on the pretty girl, drop to the floor or turn out the window. I end up with this word-picture of eyeballs rolling all over the place and it’s not a lovely view. STOP!

There are probably as many examples as there are writers. Let’s see what bugs my fellow writers.

Posted April 27, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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12 responses to “Chinese Water Torture

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  1. One I picked up recently. “He shrugged hi shoulders.” You don’t need his shoulders in that sentence, because what else is he shrugging?


    • That’s a good one. I knew it, but I don’t often think about it. It was one of the bugaboos back in journalism classes. I only got it wrong once and got to sit through a half-hour lecture by the head professor of the department about why this was unnecessary. He didn’t “out” me, but I felt thoroughly chided.


  2. Alright first appeared around 1880 and even makes it into published by the big shots novels. In dialog, it often sets off as a colloquialism as it is generic for heads up, pay attention etc, and the connotation of all right is as read. All (is) right. Just sayin’.
    That, along with when, then, seemed, and a laundry list of other words are the first words most editors will have you throw away as the implied logic of the text should make them redundant.
    Turn the line into dialog and whispered into the tag. More direct action BAM, fewer words. “I’d like another root beer,” he whispered. Unless one character is relating a scene. “Bobby leaned over, whispered he’d like another root beer, and then Ted lost his mind, knocked over the potato and the dog had gas all night.” That’s why the dog had gas works there. But if the whisper (action) needs “that” I say rewrite it. Personal opinion.
    Devil’s advocate today. I’m leaving “Kinda of” alone because I loaded my post with bait.


    • Just because something appears in old literature doesn’t make it grammatically correct. “Ain’t” has a purpose, but it usually isn’t used correctly. When it is, more power to the writer for making it so.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I often go back on my work and delete the word ‘that’ if several have crept in unnecessarily. That’s a good one, Lela!


  4. I occasionally get a comment from my editor, “do you realise you have used asked (or some other word) *** times in this manuscript?” They just seem to sneak in when you’re not looking.


  5. Excellent post, Lela, and written, as always, with great good humour. All right is not a term I ever use, in speaking or writing. I think it is an Americanism.


  6. I got a good giggle from the creepy examples. My main issues are when male writers are describing female characters in painfully awkward ways.


    • Yeah, that gets me too, as does when female writers write men as women who lack tits. I read a beta romance a while ago like that and it was painful. I explained to the author that I’d noticed this problem and she told me that was the way men ought to be. My husband certainly doesn’t agree.


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