Welcome, dear readers, to the fourth and final installment of my posts about verb tenses. I know I’ve been slacking off lately, but things have been a bit hectic, what with setting up Grammar Ghoul Press and dealing with a variety of other real world commitments. Continue reading
But first, I want to tell you a bit more about my ultra-secret project, which will launch on October 1st. Continue reading
Happy July, my dear readers! If you celebrated your country’s birthday or independence or something similar in the last week or so, I hope you had a great time. My Canada Day celebrations began with a tornado warning and ended with fireworks, which I think sums up my country pretty nicely. Wild and beautiful.
Okay, so it’s time for the next instalment of my Vocabulary Series. Today, I warmly welcome the wise and the whatnot to allow the letter W to wash over your wonderfully whimsical selves.
This first word is a verb that makes me think of soft summer days at the beach.
Etymology: First appears around 1500, meaning to move gently through the air. Likely comes from the Middle Dutch/Middle Low German word wachten, meaning to guard. It might also be related to the Scottish/Northern English word waff, meaning to make something move to and fro.
Definition: To float or glide gently through the air (can also refer to scents).
Example: Wanda the werepup wept as she watched her balloon waft away on the warm summer breeze.
My second word choice started out with one meaning and evolved to mean something a little different but a whole lot more interesting!
Etymology: First appears in the 1680s in Scotland, meaning the male equivalent of a witch. Comes from the Old English word wærloga, meaning traitor, liar, enemy, or devil. Wærloga comes from wær, which refers to faith and fidelity or an agreement or covenant, and in turn comes from the Proto-Germanic wera– and the Proto-Indo-European were–o-, meaning true or trustworthy. Loga comes from the early Old English word leogan, meaning to lie. Its use to describe someone in league with the devil dates to around 1300, while its use to describe a male witch or sorcerer appears in the 1560s.
Definition: A man who practices witchcraft; a wizard or sorcerer.
Example: The kindly neighbourhood warlock took pity on Wanda; with a wave of his wand, Wanda’s wayward balloon was returned to her waiting hands.
And my final word choice is one that is loaded with meaning, both socially and politically. I was pleasantly surprised to discover its innocuous origins.
Etymology: Comes from the Old English word wif, meaning woman, female, lady, and occasionally wife. Wif comes from the Proto-Germanic wiban, a word with unknown origins that also means woman. A number of other old European languages have similar words for woman (Old Norse vif, Danish and Swedish viv, Middle Dutch wiif, Old High German wib, and the German Weib). One possible Proto-Indo-European root is weip-, meaning to twist, turn, or wrap, which could suggest a veiled person.
Wif evolved into wifman, which is where the modern English word woman comes from. The modern meaning to refer to a female spouse started to emerge in Old English, but the original meaning is still preserved in a number of other words, like midwife and fishwife—and also in expressions like old wives’ tale.
Definition: A married woman, especially in relation to her spouse.
Example: Once Wanda’s balloon was securely tied to her wrist, the warlock’s wife whisked Wanda home.
If you look for advice on how to write good dialogue, you will find all kinds of articles with a variety of suggestions, rules, or tips for writing dialogue. Many of these articles contain great suggestions about how long your dialogue should be, what kind of content it should include, or what function it should serve in your writing. Today, I would like to focus on the technical side of dialogue: how to structure it within your story, how to punctuate it properly, and how to use dialogue tags.
If there is only one thing you learn here today, then let this be it. When you decide to use dialogue in your writing, you should always start a new paragraph each time a new speaker says something. Always. It eliminates reader confusion, especially when things are moving quickly. Let’s look at some examples:
Example 1: No formatting
“Did you remember to pack the silver bullets?” Dean asked. “Yes. Wait, which silver bullets?” “Seriously, Sam?” Dean shook his head. “The ones that were on the table.” “In the blue box?” “Yeah, those are the ones.” “Ah. Then no, I didn’t remember to pack them.” Dean punched Sam.
Example 2: Formatted
“Did you remember to pack the silver bullets?” Dean asked.
“Yes. Wait, which silver bullets?”
“Seriously, Sam?” Dean shook his head. “The ones that were on the table.”
“In the blue box?”
“Yeah, those are the ones.”
“Ah. Then no, I didn’t remember to pack them.”
Dean punched Sam.
Starting a new paragraph each time a different speaker says something makes your dialogue much easier to understand.
The other important thing to remember when writing dialogue is that you must punctuate it properly. So if your speaker asks a question, a question mark must appear within the quotation marks, not outside them. Same goes for periods, commas, and exclamation marks. And if you interrupt the speaker with a dialogue tag, that should be punctuated properly too. Here are some examples:
- “Grr,” said the werewolf.
- “Dean!” Sam yelled. “Look out!”
- “Crap,” said Dean as he fumbled for his wolfsbane. “Got it! Okay, bring it on, you oversized puppy.”
These are the words we use to indicate who is speaking. And the general consensus is that dialogue tags should be “invisible”—which means that readers should absorb them as part of the dialogue, rather than getting hung up on the tags themselves. Said and asked are the two most common dialogue tags.
Sometimes, we add an adjective or an adverb to a dialogue tag (he said noisily; she asked coldly). Or we use a verb instead of said or asked (he screamed; she whimpered). While this can add context or emotion, you should be careful about overusing them (and about using words that don’t physically make sense). Instead, you should use action to describe the context or a character’s emotion. Compare the following examples:
- “I’m so hungry,” the werewolf said despondently.
- The werewolf lay on the ground and clutched his growling stomach. “I’m so hungry.”
Using this type of “action beat” instead of a dialogue tag allows you to demonstrate behaviour or motivation that is unique to the character.
If you’d like to read more about writing dialogue, here are a couple of good articles to get you started:
- LitReactor – Talk It Out: How To Punctuate Dialogue In Your Prose
- Ylva Publishing – Eight tips on using dialogue tags
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Image credit: freeminds @ deviantART
Welcome to another instalment of my Vocabulary Series! This week, we’re going to look at some nifty words beginning with the letter N.
This first word is one I hold dear to my heart—probably because I heard it so often as a child!
Etymology: First appears in the late 1300s as naugti, meaning needy or having nothing. Comes from the Old English nawiht, meaning nothing. Its use to describe something wicked or evil is first seen in the 1520s. Its use to describe something related to sex is first seen in 1869. And its use to describe disobedience, particularly in children, is first seen in the 1630s. Interestingly, from the 1500s to the 1700s, a woman of bad character was sometimes referred to as a naughty pack.
Definition: Disobedient or badly behaved (especially pertaining to children); related to sex in a rude or funny way; wicked.
Example: When Santa added another name to his naughty list, the Xmas gremlins chortled in anticipation; they couldn’t wait to visit all the naughty children on Christmas Eve.
Of course, given that Santa is lurking just around the corner, we couldn’t talk about naughty if we didn’t also talk about its opposite. The etymological evolution of this word is fascinating, as you will see. Also, I now understand why it drives one of my editor friends crazy.
Etymology: First appears in the late 1200s, meaning foolish, stupid, or senseless. Comes from the Old French nice, meaning careless, clumsy, weak, needy, simple, or foolish. That, in turn, comes from the Latin nescius, meaning ignorant or unaware.
The meaning of nice started out as “foolish or stupid,” but became “timid” before the end of the 1200s. In the late 1300s, it meant “fussy or fastidious.” In the 1400s it meant “dainty or delicate.” From there it was used to mean “precise or careful” in the 1500s, “agreeable or delightful” in the 1700s and “kind or thoughtful” in the 1800s. Very few words started out with such a vastly different meaning than nice.
Definition: Pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory; kind or good-natured (of a person); slight or subtle (of a difference), requiring careful consideration; fastidious, scrupulous.
Example: Vlad sighed. No matter how hard he worked to be nice, Santa always put him on the naughty list. Apparently feeding on the homeless isn’t the same as feeding the homeless.
So, for this week’s bonus word, I chose another word with an interesting evolution that also happens to be a lot of fun to say.
Etymology: First appears in the early 1700s, meaning great hunter, which came from to the biblical figure, Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah and is referred to in Genesis as “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Its more common modern use to describe someone who is geeky and inept is owed to teenagers of 1983, and no one is really sure why they chose that word. Of course, if you know any teenagers (or remember being one) you’ll probably agree that much of what they do is a mystery. But it really does sound like the kind of word a teenager would spit out disdainfully, doesn’t it?
Definition: An inept person; a skilful hunter.
Example: Griswold was absolutely magnificent when he turned into a werewolf, but he was a total nimrod in his human form.
Image credit: Google Images
Whenever someone mentions semantics, the following scene from one of my favourite movies, Grosse Pointe Blank, plays in my head. Martin has just ordered an egg-white omelette at a diner…
Waitress: What do you want in your omelette, sir?
Martin: Nothing in the omelette, nothing at all.
Waitress: Well, that’s not technically an omelette.
Martin: Look, I don’t want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein.
Recently, I wrote about the difference between diction and syntax. Today, we’re going to look at the difference between semantics and pragmatics, two sides of a linguistic coin.
Semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and their meaning within sentences. Pragmatics looks at the same words and their meaning, but pragmatics also considers context. Consider the following sentence:
- Calliope saw the tear.
So was someone crying or did something rip? Semantics can tell us that a person named Calliope was looking at one or the other. Pragmatics goes a step further by looking at what else surrounds those words. If you are in the same place as Calliope, you would hear the difference in the way tear was pronounced—and you might see the same thing she does. If you are reading about it, then the context has likely been set for you. For example:
- Maximilian turned his head away, but not fast enough. Calliope saw the tear.
- Deirdre stood in front of the space-time continuum, but it was no use. Calliope saw the tear.
For most of us, semantics and pragmatics are instinctive. We process the conversations we hear and the words we read automatically. But we usually notice when the meaning isn’t clear, which can be the result of a poorly worded sentence, an ambiguous word choice, or unclear context. Headlines are usually the worst culprits. Here are some fun examples:
- Man helps werewolf bite victims.
- Kids make nutritious snacks.
- Sexist toys protest.
And for people learning a new language, semantics without pragmatics can lead to all kinds of confusion, especially when using idioms. For example, telling someone who is learning English to break a leg might get you in all kinds of trouble. So be sure to keep your audience in mind when choosing words and phrasing.