Archive for the ‘Word Wisdom’ Category

I’m slowly coming down off my high of just seeing The Avengers. I’ll give you three reasons why you need to watch it right now:

  1. It had the highest grossing domestic opening weekend…EVER.
  2. Shawarma.
  3. The Hulk.

If you’re interested, here are some great reviews for the movie:

Jessica O’Neal

Ddog from Gamerscene

Jimmy from Hypable

So, because my head is still swimming with men in leotards and giant explosions, I’m going to keep this post fairly short and sweet. I read an article that said language experts generally agree that “cellar door” is the most beautiful sounding phrase in the English language.

Um, what??

Readers over at didn’t really agree either. The word they chose was “serendipity,” I can’t really argue with that. I think “serenity” flows a little better, though. But that may be because I just finished Firefly (*sniff*).

There were some other interesting choices, too. But what I really want to know is this: What do you think is the most beautiful word in the English language? (You can explain why for bonus points!)

As writers, we generally have a pretty good hold on the English language. We like pointing out other people’s dangling participles (IYKWIM). We enjoy using random words like ennui or susurration in regular conversations. Or, my personal favorite, constantly correcting people when they use double negatives. (It’s probably my biggest pet peeve.) So, as writers, we generally have a pretty good hold on the English language.

Except when we’re wrong.

Have you ever heard a phrase over and over again – even used it yourself – then one day went, “Oh! That’s what that means?” or “That’s how you say that?” I know I have. And, for your viewing pleasure, here are my top five:

I might as well

I always said, “I mind as well,” then one day I realized that made absolutely no sense. Oops.

Lactose intolerant

Or, if you were me, you thought it was “lactose and tolerant.” I never did understand why people said this when they weren’t tolerant of dairy products.

Don’t take things for granted

I suppose always hearing “don’t take things for granite” could be much worse. I mean, even if it doesn’t have the same exact meaning, it still gets the point across.

Amber waves of grain

Imagine always singing “amber waves of gray” and wondering how waves were gray, and why they were gray if they were really amber…

Up and at ‘em

For the longest time I didn’t know who Adam was and why we had to get him up every morning.

Come on, I know I can’t be the only one. Have any of you grown up saying something one way, only to realize you’ve been wrong all of these years? Were you lucky enough to discover it on your own, or did you have someone point it out to you?

It's always important to note the meaning of a name, as well as any religious/historical significance it might have. Peter means "rock."

Names are very important to me. I think it stems from the fact that I hate mine – Karen. Karen. For some reason it has just never sat well with me. The only women I know who are named Karen are older than me – at least by one generation, if not two. I know there are those out there who are my age and share my name, but I have grown up with the notion that my name is old fashioned. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I love old world names, but mine just feels…commonly old.

It’s also incredibly hard to find a nickname that suits my name. I go by “Kay” for short on the internet, to make it easier and in case I don’t want to give out my real name. But no one calls me that. And I just don’t have any good nicknames that are publicly acceptable. (“Karebear,” while still endearing, is so second grade.)

So, needless to say, I’m fascinated by other names. I love the way they sound, especially the unique ones. I love the different spellings. And I especially love the meanings. I love how certain names can conjure up certain images. Vladimir is a dark name, one that may be associated with a vampire or a villain. Whereas Charles is a strong name that I often associate with a refined man, someone who is worthy of the title of “hero.”

But nicknames are important, too! Charles might be a name associated with a grown man in a business suit, but Charlie brings about images of little boys and chocolate factories. Chuck is a silly name – maybe used for a goofy teenager who is one burger short of a combo meal.

And meanings! Oh, name meanings. My current novel has over four hundred characters. The reader doesn’t even meet or know half of them, but I made sure that I did. And I handpicked every single name. Every single name has significance. That’s how important I think the meanings of names are.

For example, take a look at a YA series that I love: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The main character’s name is Percy, short for Perseus. His mother named him that because the original Perseus was (one of) the only Greek heroes who had a happy ending. You better believe that’s important.

But what about some other novels? In Great Expectations, Pip’s love interest is Estella (“star”). She’s somewhat of a cruel person, and is just as unattainable as her name suggests. Or what about Prince Prospero from “The Masque of the Red Death”? It’s both significant – he is a wealthy (“prosperous”) nobleman – and ironic – his wealth does no good in saving him from a similar fate to anyone else (rich or poor) who happens across the Red Death. And what about those classic faerie tales? The name “Snow White” may have been a description of her skin, but the meaning is much deeper than that – it is a representation of her purity.

So, have I convinced you yet? Please say that I have! Some readers are very quick to understand the meaning of a name in your novel. It’ll be like a little treat for them, a little Easter egg hidden away in the pages of your book. I know I usually pick up on mythological allusions when I happen by them. Others might not be so fast to realize what you’ve done, but you’d be surprised what the subconscious is able to grasp that the conscious isn’t. You can use names as a clue to someone’s past (like using the name Amira (“princess”) for a young woman running away from her kingdom) or their personality (like Felix (“happy”) for someone who is always upbeat).

You might be surprised at what you’ve chosen as a character name already. Maybe you chose Sybil as the name of your Diviniation professor, without realizing it meant “Prophetess.” (Yes, that is a Harry Potter reference. I am also 258% positive that Jo chose that name on purpose. If you aren’t already aware, look at a list of the names of the characters in that series and start looking up their meanings. She knew exactly what she was doing when she picked out each one.) Or, perhaps, you’ve written a storyline for a man named Derek, who is always down on his luck and can never quite manage to stick up for himself. It might surprise you, then, that his name means “People Ruler.” That wouldn’t be appropriate, now would it? (Unless you’re using it in irony!)

Oh, and here’s something really strange. I just started a new project and I was having such trouble picking out the name for my main character (which is SO not like me). In the end, I went with a name that I love, and one that has circulated through my family for a while: Hannah. It turns out that the meaning (“grace”) was perfect for my storyline. I came up with a middle name and a last name for her as well. When one of the other characters in the story did some numerology to find out her “name number” I made sure I came up with real results. The weird part? My character’s number is a 7 based on the name that I chose for her. I already knew her personality before I chose to find out her name number, yet the number and her personality match perfectly. How cool is that?

So, here’s the real point: names are powerful. There’s a reason why Rumpelstiltskin was obsessed with them. They’re significant. They’re important. Use that to your advantage.

My favorite site to go to is They’ve got a huge catalogue and it is really easy to search for a name to find the meaning (plus an indication of the gender and nationality). You can also use their advanced search to look for names that start and end with certain letters, have certain meanings, a certain amount of syllables, or have a certain origin. The “meaning” search is my favorite, and it can be so helpful when you’re looking for that perfect name for your character.

So, what do you guys think about names? Are they significant to you, or don’t you bother with them? Do you have any sites that you frequent that are good at helping you decide? I’m always up for more resources!

Page 736 from Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I’m not a huge fan of swearing. Most of my immediate family seem to enjoy using cuss words nearly as many times as they open their mouths to talk, but I was brought up knowing that it wasn’t something you did in the house. And, it was assumed, you didn’t do it outside of the house, either.

I have no qualms with that. I think swearing can easily make an intelligent person look stupid. Nice people instantly turn rude. You’re suddenly not taken seriously. If you can’t think of the proper way to speak and share your emotions, please just do yourself a favor and don’t talk.

Well, that’s how I feel in most cases.

Recently, I realized that swearing can come in handy. If you don’t do it a lot, slipping in an expletive here or there can make the people around you suddenly take you very seriously. If I swear (which, honestly, almost never happens) my friends know that I mean business. I’m not someone to be trifled with when I’m angry, and they know to back off.

So, what does this mean for your writing? Should you use some choice words in your story, or shouldn’t you? When does it lend itself to your story, and when does it take away from it? I’ve got some tips that will hopefully help answer those questions.

(The inspiration for this post, by the way, came from this blog entry by Jenny Hansen. She talks about creative ways to not swear when that’s really all you want to do. Please give it a read – I promise you’ll be laughing by the end of it. And you’ll probably get some good ideas out of it, too.)

When to leave the swearing out:

  1. When your audience (whether intended or not) is still in that “impressionable” stage. By age 15, when most kids have already hit high school, it can be assumed that they have an arsenal of snappy comebacks that would shame their mother if she heard them. Even so, kids that age (and younger) don’t need that kind of enhancement of vocabulary. It’s probably best to leave your more imaginative insults out of your work.
  2. When your characters don’t lend themselves to that kind of behavior. In most novels, characters run the story. The plot is important, obviously, but the characteristics of your protagonist or antagonist are what drive that plotline – their actions steer the story in the direction that it goes in. Be aware of your characters. You might be the kind of person that casually drops the f-bomb mid conversation with your grandmother, but does that stay true for your characters? Take yourself out of the story and start realizing that your characters are people, too.
  3. When the occasion definitely doesn’t call for it. In college, I had an amazing array of English teachers. One of my favorites was Jimmy (yes, he let us call him by his first name). He was an incredible writer, and one day he let us read one of his unpublished short stories. I really enjoyed it (although, all I can remember about it now was that it had something to do with hiking and a bear, I think), but he dropped the f-bomb half way through it and I was suddenly thrust out of the story. It seemed forced and out of place. The scene wasn’t tense and there was no arguing, so why did he decide to put it in there? Well, in fact, that was his question to us. He wasn’t sure it fit, and he wanted our opinions. I don’t think I said anything that day, but most of the class had the same feeling I did: it just didn’t belong. There was no reason to swear in that case. It didn’t lend itself to the story and it didn’t help us understand the main character.

When to keep the swearing in your story:

  1. When your audience can handle it. I’ve found that Young Adult fiction can be juvenile or it can be dark. There is a wide spectrum there, and sometimes I feel as if there should be sub-categories in this genre. For the older YA readers (like me) some swearing isn’t going to astonish us or put us off your book. The same goes for any adult fiction. It definitely isn’t anything that we haven’t heard before, and we’re more than capable of acting mature about it.
  2. When the characters call for it. Is your main character a brooding delinquent teenage boy ripe with angst? Or is she, perhaps, a drug addict who always finds herself in the wrong situations with the wrong people? Characterization is important to the believability of a character, and dialogue often helps that along faster than description does. If the character is the type of person to swear like a sailor (or maybe he IS a sailor) then by all means, throw it in there. How a person speaks shows what type of a person they are nearly as well as how they handle themselves.
  3. When the occasion calls for it. If someone is having a fight with their loved one, or finds themselves in a sticky situation, an expletive is often the first thing that escapes their mouth. Swearing would be realistic in that situation, and is definitely called for.

So, as with everything, take swearing in moderation. No one wants to read a book where they can find the f-word ten times on all 208 pages of your novel. It would get old pretty fast. But, it can lend itself to your story. Just like in real life, it can show the gravity of the situation. It can let your audience know that your characters are worried or angry. Don’t discount its power, but don’t overuse it or it will lose all of its inherent influence.

Got anything to add? Do you have pet peeves when it comes to cuss words your find in a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!