If You Think…

I love language and languages. I especially love when I learn something new about it. Like the saying “getting his just deserts.” One “S”. Because it not about that sweet thing you eat after a meal and getting one that fits what you’ve done, although that makes sense and it’s what most people think, but because deserts is a noun form from the verb deserve, so it means getting what one deserves. (Oversimplified, but, hey, you get what I mean.)

Just desserts (One of my favorite Hungarian cakes)

Stuff like that probably makes me a pedant, but I wear that badge proudly. I like knowing things. It’s because I like learning things. I make mistakes. I know for a fact that at least one of my early books makes the mistake between loathe and loath. The copy editor didn’t catch it, so it’s in print that way forever. I know the difference now (loathe is the verb meaning to hate, and loath is the adjective meaning reluctant).

So back to the title of this post. You know the saying, “If you think …, then you have another…” and there I pause. We learn language by making errors. Little children will say things like, “I goed,” or “He drinked.” They have internalized adding -ed to make the past tense, but haven’t learned that irregular verbs have different forms. We internalize language and don’t think about grammar when we speak. We just speak.

So when someone makes an error on purpose, it’s hard not to try to correct it in our minds. The saying actually is, “If you think you’re right, you have another think coming.” Think about it (there’s that word again). It’s grammatically incorrect on purpose. It sounds strange to our ears to use a verb, think, as a noun, but doesn’t think make a whole lot more sense than thing? What does “You have another thing coming” even mean? Oh, we’ve tried to make sense of it, like the dessert vs desert thing (there’s that word again). Before I knew the true form, I always thought the saying meant you should get a punishment of some sort. But, really, how harsh is that for thinking something (Oooo, think and thing in the same sentence)? Thing is so vague, so meaningless. Yet look how often we use it, even in this post. Think makes more sense, when you analyze it. (I almost wrote “when you think about it,” but that would be excessive, don’t you think?)

But language is nothing if not fluid, and most people will tell you that the saying is “If you think you’re right, then you have another thing coming.” That’s our internalized grammar editor trying to correct an error made on purpose. We know English, and you can’t use the verb think as a noun. So using thing has become acceptable. You will hear thing used on TV or see it in books, but now you know better.

Perhaps it will drive you as nuts as it does me. >twisting my evil villain mustache< Bwhahahaha. Wait until I point out the difference between fewer and less.


Books I am reading now:

The Unseducible Earl by Sheri Humphreys

Sonnet Coupled by Roxanne D Howard




I am working on a novel that features a heroine who is a master brewer. Her brewery and her job plays a big role not only in the plot but also in setting, and her characterization. Which means research. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I like it much better than wine. So I have done some basic research so I can get the first draft done. Then I shall have to delve into the world of brewing deeper.

Research can be tricky that way. You need to know enough about the subject so that you don’t get nasty letters about the errors you made, but you also have to avoid the temptation to show off to the reader and share every picayune detail that you learned. I have yet to write a book where I haven’t had to do some sort of research. Even when I’ve set a novel in a familiar place, like San Diego, I still pore over maps (and Google Earth–what a great writers’ tool that is) to make sure I get details right. And still sometimes you have to fudge things. In one of my books my hero and heroine waltz, but the year is 1798, and while all sorts of research exists about the waltz in the Regency in England, I couldn’t find anything about it in the New World. So I fudged it. I know it came around mid-century in Austria and Germany, and I know that many, many Germans immigrated to the US (I believe it was in the 1830’s what a member of the House put forth a bill to have German declared as our national language. It failed.), so I fudged it. Bottom line I am writing fiction, and it wasn’t a crucial element to the story.

Unlike some novels I’ve read where wrong details rip me from the story completely. Like the novel I read that was set in Venice, and the hero and heroine drove to a masquerade in a coach and four. In fact they traveled around the city that night (in the story) and only on the fourth excursion did they ever climb into a boat. Excuse me? In Venice? No horses in Venice, except the bronze ones that grace St. Mark’s Plaza. And if you’re setting book in Venice, why are you not using boats to get around anyway. Or the novel that was set in contemporary New Mexico and the hero was anticipating a typical New Mexican meal of red and green chile. Uh, no. Chile is a condiment; it goes on top of everything, not eaten as a meal by itself. Or the novel where the German hero calls the heroine “messy” as a play on the German word “Messe” which means fair…but not fair as in the adjective, but fair as in a convention or conference, like a book fair. Pulled me completely from the story. I literally stopped reading and shouted, “Oh my God. You’re so wrong.” False cognates exist in all languages so you can’t make one of your running jokes based on something that makes no sense. When I first met my husband, I kept asking him to index when he drove. I finally realized I had taken the false cognate for signal in Hungarian and because it sounded English, used it in my everyday language. And we’ve all heard a story about telling someone you are “embarazada” in Spanish.

Yes, historical novels require more research, but as I said above, I have written a single novel without some research. Even the paranormal ones. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my current WIP, and decide which of the local breweries to visit to get my details correct. Hmm, I may have to visit more than one.


Books I’m reading now:
A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

English as a Second Language

As most of you know, my parents came from Hungary and neither spoke any English when they arrived (yeah, pronoun agreement–this is a casual essay; grow up). My father was an engineer who took a job as a janitor until he had rudimentary English. To the end of his life, his phone conversations in English consisted of saying “ja, ja,” (which by the way isn’t Hungarian) with the occasional “no” thrown in. My mother’s oral English was always much better. I grew up with Chicago pronounced CHi-cago, we lived in the “vest”  and shopped at Wauns (Vons grocery, which makes no sense because Hungarian does have a v sound so why they switched the w and v sounds I’ll never know.) The past tense with “did” was always used  incorrectly, as in, “I did went.” And my favorite: the day my father walked into a Burger King and ordered a whooper, not a whopper. The poor woman behind the counter tried so hard to keep a straight face.

I laugh at the mistakes they made, not because I’m laughing at them. It’s out of love. Really. English has to be the hardest language to master. With seven different pronunciations of “-ough”, no common-sense spelling (really–Polish vs polish, wind, and a language where “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish”), where use of the subjunctive is considered too complex for regular language, where we have fake rules (never end a sentence in a preposition, conjunctions should never start sentences, never split an infinitive–these are all not real rules of English), where people will argue over “think” vs “thing”, as in “you’ve got another think coming” (it’s “think”–do the research), or that the phrase is “just deserts” not “just desserts” because the word comes from an archaic word desert (think “deserve”), and most native speakers have no idea what they’re saying when they use the old adage “it’s the exception that proves the rule” (that one necessitates the looking up of the definition of prove-what do you think a “proving ground” is?).

So when my mother says nothing bad happened to her, “knock on the door”, instead of on wood, or thinks the famous fruit in Atlanta is the Georgia plum, I laugh, and admire the heck out of her. Because she’s willing to take a risk and communicate in a language that has many native speakers baffled.

Here’s to the risk takers.


Books I’m reading now:

The Sword-edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe