A simple word nerd digression

This started out as a part of the previous post…but it’s really just silly and if you don’t like diction, grammar and English engineering, feel free to skip it!

Yep, English engineering, that’s what this is about. I live in a town full of engineers and thought of myself as out of place in my liberal arts-ness…until one of those engineers looked at me and said, “You’re an English engineer.” It wasn’t a compliment, I don’t think…. So, let’s define terms, because that’s what engineers do. I am not an engineer from England. Or an anything else from England…except a descendant by way of several generations. I AM, however, one who analyzes, explains, defines and uses the English language to build things. I build sentences, paragraphs, arguments, stories, and explanations…lots of explanations. I take them apart and rebuild them in a better, truer form. And I love to do it. There is so much room for creativity and humor, for imagination and pathos, even for horror and grief in the construction of life with words.

But it is also easy to screw up. Here’s the fun part: I have a blood-thirsty example of how many ways you can use English correctly and incorrectly and still communicate exactly what you mean…as long as what you mean to do is describe a bloody death. (I might possibly be grinning maniacally in my nerdy little head!)

For the grammarians: this is about how nouns become verbs even when we already have perfectly good verbs to describe what said nouns are used for:

1. Say you want your murderer (in your nascent mystery novel, of course) to have a gun. What does he (this time it’s a he) do with it? He shoots someone. Or he guns him down.

2. A knife? He stabs the hapless victim…or knifes her.

3. Guillotine…this one goes both ways: The French revolutionaries decapitated the aristocrats, then began guillotining each other. OR you could say they all died of decapitation by guillotine. Of course, this book is more of a historical suspense spy novel….

4. Rope…be careful here, it’s not what you think! No one died by roping…calves survive the experience at rodeos all the time. AND, despite what I’ve seen in many recent historical novels…the pirate was NOT hung. He was hanged. I promise. It’s true. The pirate may very well have hung his cutlass (with which he does many nefarious things to people) on a peg, but when he was captured by the British East India Company, they hanged him. If you write, or even edit, a pirate novel…get it right.

Thanks for humoring me. Enjoy your English engineering!

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