Separated by a common language

I’m a member of a fantastic little writer’s group on Facebook and from time to time someone has a question for the collective. Occasionally, these questions even have something to do with writing or words, and it’s one of these questions that’s led me to today’s blogpost.

One of the group, let’s call him Ben…because that’s his name, asked the very simple and honest question: is it TIDBIT or TITBIT? He had a friend that insisted it was TITBIT…

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It couldn’t be that, could it? And so, members of the group weighed in… NO, it’s TIDBIT. Of course it’s tidbit, that other word is just…wrong.

This is the part of the story where I appear in a puff of blue smoke with the drone of the bagpipes in the air. Did I mention in the last five minutes I’m originally from Scotland? No? Well, guess what…I am! lol

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Over in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, words are ever so slightly different. And it’s not just the plethora of weird and wonderful accents I’m talking about. Over there it’s still colour, not color; theatre, not theater, and it’s TITBIT. lol.

None of this matters in the big scheme of things, although I’m very aware that my spelling has gotten worse since I moved to the US because there are enough differences between UK and US words that I have to double check even the simplest words. Even now, after twenty years in the US, some of my writing can sound like I’m from somewhere other than the US and that won’t do as a writer who writes primarily for a US audience. I can’t very well have someone from Seattle sounding like they just crawled out of Scratchy Bottom, South Dorset, England.

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So, as a writer, I’ve had to spend an unusual amount of time learning subtle differences in word usage, with editors quick to pull me up on words that don’t quite sound right, and analyzing (analysing) the little spelling differences which actually do make sense. For instance, switching the ‘re’ to ‘er’ in theater makes sense phonetically, while knocking the ‘u’ out of color saves you a letter and doesn’t change the sound. There are a bazillion other examples of US spellings being simplified, so it got me thinking about where the original UK spellings of certain words came from because they can tend towards the unusual or archaic. For example, let’s talk about the double vowel pairings of AE and OE.

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I spell ETHER, or at least I used to spell it: AETHER. Other examples of ‘AE’ being used in UK spelling, with the A being knocked off for the US spellings, whilst (while) keeping the ‘e’ sound: Archaeology, Haemoglobin, Encyclopaedia and Anaesthesia.

And also, ‘OE’, which like ae keeps the ‘e’ sound and removes the other vowel, as in FOETUS, OESOPHAGUS and COELIAC.

I wondered where these weird vowel pairings came from. It turns out, Latin took Greek vowel sounds and created æ and œ to represent those sounds and, when English started morphing Latin, it stole those and added them to the written language. Æ was known as the letter ASH, while Œ was known as ETHEL, both the Ash and Ethel names coming from proto-Germanic Runic alphabets that the Anglo-Saxons brought over from Europe. Yes, this might be why English can be such a confusing language lol.

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Of course, there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet nowadays, with no Ash or Ethel in sight. Typesetting and printing led to fewer complicated letters and so Æ became AE and now, in the US at least, just E. Same goes with Ethel.

Of course, there are always exceptions to keep you on your toes, and while America embraced simplicity for most of their word changes, they left a few out. Phoenix gets to keep it’s OE pairing and so does amoeba, while plurals of some latin words still in use today: larvae and algae, get to keep the AE pairing.

Clearly none of this has anything to do with why TITBIT is TIDBIT in the US. In this case, it’s one of those words that started as Old English as tyd-bit and morphed into titbit and then morphed back in the US to tidbit. I expect words to change at a quicker rate now that we’re so interconnected on social media and new words seem to get invented all the time, while old words are altered to reflect changes in how we communicate.

Do you have any favorite idiosyncratic words? Let me know in the comments! :)








Excelsior

Stan Lee passed away on the 12th of November. He’d had a good innings and, it’s fair to say, he was remembered well by comic book fans, the comic book companies, and the people behind the movie behemoth that spawned from many of his creations. I too doffed my cap to him, whilst recognizing that he wasn’t alone building the Marvel Universe.

I’m too young to have been collecting comics when Stan was writing them, but old enough to remember “Stan’s Soapbox” and his position of figurehead of the comic book brand I have favored for more than two thirds of my life. I can’t say I was ever directly influenced by Stan’s work, but I was influenced by creators only one or two steps removed from Stan.

If you talk to me for more than five minutes, I’m bound to mention I’m a comic book fan. Luckily for me, my friends were too, and it’s from this mutual love of comic books, and their larger than life stories, that the world of Dynamo City was created. What started off as a roleplaying game -

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- based off the Marvel Superheroes RPG - morphed into something better. We created a new world, new characters, and story after story, producing many hours of fun. From there, we wrote actual stories to fill in the history of the people and the places, and it’s from those early stories that my second novel was born.

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“The Wolves of Dynamo” is a celebration of the world created by three imaginative, and dorky, boys: Alan wrote darker things, his love of Batman, Daredevil, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Excalibur influenced the beginnings of Dynamo City and the core of the mythos behind it. Andrew loved Iron Man, back before Iron Man was everyone’s darling, and the characters he created reflected the intelligence and tech know-how he enjoyed. He bridged more modern ideas with very down to earth sensibilities. The character of Jeff Langford, the Everyman, is also basically Andrew… with millions of extra dollars. Meanwhile, I leaned heavily into wide-eyed wonder, and tended, surprisingly, to create more fantastical elements, tapping into my love of fairytales, science fiction, and magic. Of course, as Dynamo coalesced and grew, the lines between our ideas and stories became blurred as we influenced one another.

The world of Dynamo is enormous. It spawned over one hundred roleplays, which then spawned offshoots: Dynamo Tales; Connery, King & Lees, Network, and even our very own space-centric ideas…a la Star Trek. So, Dynamo grew from a city to a State, to a world, to Otherworlds and the only thing that stopped it was… real life.

The boys grew up and scattered to the four corners of the globe and left behind a catalog of fascinating characters and wonderful stories. It bothered me that we had created so much and now the ideas just sat gathering dust in ring binders. So, we started writing stories based on the characters and ideas we’d created. When this too ground to a halt, I was beginning to make plans to take this writing I was doing and turn it into something I could hold in my hands. I had an idea separate from Dynamo which turned into my novel “Monsters” and after self-publishing it, I got the sparkle in my eye to have another go at Dynamo.

Andrew rarely writes anymore but gave his blessing for Dynamo to continue in novel form. Alan, meanwhile, continues to write, and will hopefully serve up some “Dynamo Tales” as the series of stories progresses. Until then, you should check out his novel The Cold Handshake. A novel in the style of an old school pulp noir.

For now, I have to get back to my thriller/mystery series with Doyle Godwin, but I fully expect to return to Dynamo soon.

So, while I wasn’t directly influenced by Stan, I believe I’m a writer today because of my love of comic books. I enjoyed the X-Men and Avengers - team books - the most, because of the group dynamics, and it’s why I enjoy writing Dynamo with its eclectic cast of characters. The themes featured throughout comic books like X-Men, were also instrumental in me creating a character like Doyle Godwin: an outcast or misfit who only feels like he belongs with the other misfits. The only thing that has influenced me as much as comic books are movies, but that will be a post for another day.

Thanks, Stan.

Excelsior.





First draft is finished!

It took about a year longer than planned, but the first draft of Dynamo City Book 2 is finished.

 

*pause for a short celebration*

And now back to business. Ugh.

Editing is next and will, no doubt, cause me to fill the air with a myriad of colorful curse words as I pick through my work. Such is the writer's lot: finish a book, only for it to not really be finished at all.

Usually writers like to make their WIPs* longer than they intend to publish, that way when editing is complete and you've slashed a couple of thousand words off your word count, you can still bring the book in to the length you want it to be. Right now, my word count is a little...light since I excised a large chunk of my third act during the writing process.

I know there are a couple of chapters that need some work and filling out, but the trick will be getting the book back to a satisfactory length, while not hurting the story. At the end of the day, it'll be counter-productive to add filler to my novel just to hit a certain word count. Editing is all about tightening the story beats, eliminating the bone-headed stuff, and possibly taking another run at any missed opportunities from the first draft. Did I mention the bone-headed stuff? LOL. You'd be surprised at some of the stuff that gets caught in edits, so it's always good to get rid of them so readers aren't commenting on it in your book reviews!

Once I'm satisfied I've got the best book I can write, I'll hire an editor to then pour scorn on my grammar, punctuation, telling, passive voice, adverbs, vagueness, and the general construction of the story. And after it's been torn apart by an editor, I'll fix it again, and then, maybe, it'll be fit for human consumption.

Wish me luck.


WIPs* = Work(s) In Progress