I’m writing this as a self-professed Grammar Nazi.
I defy you to find a book without an error in it. I defy you, no matter how much you understand English (and yes, although I am all for learning and speaking and using other languages, this is about English), to write 400 pages and make no mistakes. I defy you to read, re-read, edit, revise, have others look at it, re-read again, and still not find errors in your manuscript. For example, in my last book, WISHFUL THINKING, I was at the galley-proof stage (the point where they send you your book the way it will appear on the page, usually a pdf file), and I still found 147 errors. I know. I counted. But there are degrees of errors, and I put it to you that most are forgivable.
A missing comma here or there shouldn’t cause you to write an angry letter. In fact, I know some publishing houses that omit commas on purpose. It’s the house “Style.” Just yesterday I read that one house forbids their authors from using semi-colons. Their reasoning? That genre fiction is supposed to pull the reader in; semi-colons stop the reader and interrupt the flow (See how I did that there?). I have to admit that rule made me cringe. You can’t ban semi-colons. That’s like the time I was kicked out of textbook training when I was teaching because I wouldn’t agree to disagree about what a verb is. But we are trying to make the writing accessible. Grammar and punctuation rules can fly out the window then.
I know I make errors when I write. Sometimes because I think too fast for my fingers to type ( I never had typing in school. Somehow I skipped that required class). I skip words, or put in part of a word (like par for part) that is a word and my brain, knowing what to expect, fills in the blank. Have you seen those Internet memes that tout your amazing abilities to decipher words written with jumbled inner spelling or numbers replacing letters or backwards? It’s supposedly a sign of your intelligence. No, it isn’t. It’s your brain trying to make sense of what it sees and working the way it should.
Sometimes I spell things wrong. I have never been a speller. Spelling is not grammar. I could go on about the seven different pronunciations of “ough”, the silent “b”, or why “ghoti” spells “fish”, but I’ve done that before. How the “t” in often was said, then silent, and now it’s back. Or not. Both are standard. What kind of language allows you to do that anyway? English, that’s what. I’ve always considered spelling a torture. When I write a novel I do look up every word I may have possible spelled wrong, but I may overlook some because I’m utterly convinced I have it right. And that’s not even worrying about “pore” vs “pour”, or “hear, hear” vs. “here, here” (By the way, those are the ones that throw me right out of a story–the homonyms used in place of the correct word).
Sometimes things are left out by the printer. In my second novel, my galleys contained a chapter that wasn’t even from my book. Another time a chapter was repeated. I taught DANDELION WINE to my eighth graders. The books we used were missing a couple of paragraphs at the end of one of the chapters. That wasn’t done by the author.
The errors I cannot forgive are content errors. When a character is a certain age, but that doesn’t work out mathematically (Don’t ask me why I catch math errors; I just do). When the character is a widow in one chapter and divorced a few chapters down. When the story is set in a certain year and then people or events are mentioned that couldn’t have taken place in that year (unless it’s alternate reality; then that’s fine). I’ve seen these mistakes in books I’ve read.
And some of the mistakes are the readers’. I once used the word “posh” in a novel set in 1845. I knew the word wasn’t in existence then (yeah, I look that sort of thing up), but it was close enough to the time period that I fudged it. Someone had to use it first, right?) Well, a reader called me on it and gave me the “origin” of the word. It was that cute Internet story about the English traveling to India on a ship, Port Out, Starboard Home, so they’d know which side of the ship to have their cabins to avoid the sun. Only problem is that story’s not true. I had a friend correct me on “if you think X, then you have another think coming.” She wanted me to write “thing”. Nope, sorry, that’s wrong. (See what I did here with the commas–for effect) And just recently another friend pointed out I’d written “just deserts” wrong. Nope again. It is “just deserts”, not “just desserts”. And would you say, for example: “she is hungrier than me”? That would be incorrect.
And you see how I’m putting the quotes inside the punctuation? That’s the British way, and frankly makes a helluva lot more sense than the American way, so I’m starting the trend. (In certain instances, like these.)
I just read an article about the physicist Paul Dirac. He had some quirks, but when he read WAR AND PEACE his only comment about he novel was that Tolstoy had made the sun rise twice in one day. (Mental Floss, Jan-Feb 2010). So you see, authors, editors, copy editors, translators (I read the German version of Harry Potter and they translated cat’s whiskers as a mustache), they’re all human. You may get a thrill at finding an error, but get over it. That’s kind of petty. (I know, because I have to admit I get a thrill and feel superior when I find errors. I’m not proud of myself.).
Read the book and enjoy it. That’s why we write. I won’t even go into how ungrammatical speech is here.
–Gabi, who really doesn’t proofread blog articles.
Books I’m reading now:
Vampire in Atlantis by Alyssa Day