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! :)








Where we ignore 2018 and look ahead to 2019

2018 - a year in review… Meh.

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Okay, it wasn’t stellar. I did finish a book, but it’s not yet fit to publish. So, that goes into turnaround as I work on the second book of my mystery/thriller series about Doyle Godwin. The tentative plan is to actually write two Doyle books in 2019, but let’s just see how the first one goes.

What else?

I am going to be re-doing the covers for the books I’ve already released. One of the countless difficulties in marketing a book is creating a cover that meets the criteria of the genre you’ve written. And then, you have to make sure it looks professional and eye-catching enough that people won’t just scroll past/walk past it. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many similar looking covers out there, this is why. People demand originality, but if you wrap it in something they don’t recognize, they turn their noses up at it. I don’t know why this is, but I guess this is why advertising people make so much money as they do their Pied Piper routine and lead us a merry dance. My original covers weren’t awful, but “Monsters” was rushed and the execution could’ve been much better. I love the cover for my Dynamo book, but people aren’t paying any attention to it, so it means I’m going to try something different.

And?

Jeez, well, I’m going to a two-day summit in Chicago in May, hoping to learn how to “sell more books”. This, after all, is the name of the game. The landscape changes so quickly for Indie authors, I’m hoping to pick up some useful tips to help me when I start cranking out more books. The most important part of selling books is to have books to sell, and I’ve been remiss in my writing duties over the past few years. That has to pick up if I stand a chance of making a nickel out of this line of work.

And don’t be mistaken, this is not just a hobby for me, even though I do have to write in my spare time. I don’t see myself ever making enough money to retire from my current bill-paying job, but it would be nice if I could.

Anything else to declare?

Nope. That’s about it. I’ve got to lose a ton of weight and make better use of my time in general throughout the year. And, of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Avengers: Endgame in April. lol. Perhaps not the loftiest goals, but I’ve got to start somewhere. If I can get two books written next year, it will have been a successful year for me. And I’ve always got the second Dynamo City book to clean up and get out into the world too, so perhaps there will be a few things to look forward to in 2019.

Happy New Year to you all. Lang may yer lum reek!



GSY

When is my next book out?

Do you know what one of the most frequent questions writers are asked?

“When is your next book out?” (Or some variation of that).

For many writers, this is part of the landscape that’s changed a lot over the last ten years. I know my audience wants, or expects, books to be released quicker, and that need has only increased in the age of digital downloads and kindle readers. With so much content available, you don’t have to patiently wait for my next book. Instead, you can jump to the next writer and, if I’m lucky, you might come back when I have another book ready.

So, what’s taking me so long?

 
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The simple answer is: me. I’ve gotten in my own way, more often than not. However, generally speaking, the thing that slows down book releases is EDITING. I hate editing. I hate editing more than someone on the KETO diet craves cake. However, much like cake, editing is a necessary evil. It’s part of the secret juju writers apply to novels in an effort to convince YOU to buy our books.


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Right now I’m editing my third novel. I intend to self-publish, but I still need to have an editor look over my work to make sure it’s polished to a beautiful shine. Before I have to deal with someone else’s deconstruction of my writing, I have to do some of the deconstructing myself. For me, the biggest part of this process involves getting rid of “junk words” or so called “naughty words”. That doesn’t mean swear words… far from it… but it means cleansing my story of useless filler words: adverbs, pointless speech tags, and words that tell instead of show.

I liken it to the idea of trimming fat…violently, with a blunt weapon. Meanwhile, good words build muscular sentences and sculpted paragraphs. And if I do it correctly, you won’t notice when you read it. You might remark, frequently, what a bloody good read it is, but the hope is the magic is retained and your nose is stuck in the book until you finish it.

Examples of words I try to avoid overusing: UP, DOWN, VERY, FELT, THAT, JUST, TOTALLY, QUITE, NOD(DED), SHRUG(GED), SMILED, GIGGLED… you get the idea. These are just some examples of words I’m cutting back on. Now, I know you’re thinking that some of these words seem perfectly fine to you and if you read them in a story, they wouldn’t bother you so much. Take “UP” for example. UP is a perfectly sensible word. However, take this sentence:

Gareth stood up and walked out of the kitchen, his manly awesomeness plain for everyone to see.

Aside from the jokey commentary… clearly I wouldn’t be in a kitchen, what’s the point? If I’ve been sitting in a chair and want to leave, I can just stand. I don’t have to stand UP. You get it! The action is not a mystery to you so why spell it out like you’re a derpy derpster? Sitting is the same. You don’t have to sit DOWN. Just sit.

 

Of course, you can sit UP and can stand DOWN, so we mustn’t just break out the flamethrower and burn all of examples, just the ones where the word is superfluous.

Similarly, speech tags should be used sparingly. We’ve all read dialogue that doesn’t ‘zing’ like a conversation should, but instead is interrupted constantly with staccato bursts of “he said” “he yelled” “he joked” “he hullaballoed”…or something like that. I use speech tags simply as a means to keep track of who’s talking and if that’s apparent by the dialogue, then why bother with a tag?

So, despite shorter release windows, editing still eats up a lot of time. I know some writers who stockpile books to shorten the release time between them to keep their readers on the hook. And there are some who continue to ignore the changes in market demand and wait years between releases. I have accidentally become one of latter, although I hope to up my game in the coming year.

So, when will my next book be out? I don’t have a definitive date set yet, but I promise to let you know. And, I hope you’ll join me in my journey again.

There will be cake.

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