The Evolution of the English Language or “Dumbing it Down”?

If you follow the “word nerds” on Twitter, you’ll see all sorts of tweets about what words used to mean vs. what they mean now. There is no doubt that the English language is evolving as it is affected (and always has been) by various cultural influences. I’m OK with that* (most days), but I hate to see the language change simply because we just don’t care enough to get it right.

* Splitting infinitives and ending sentences with a preposition don't bother me much, especially if it helps the writer avoid sounding like a pompous know-it-all.

Case in Point: on-premise vs. on-premises.

For those who don’t work in high-tech (or have anything to do with buying it), the phrase, in a nutshell, means technology resources that are located on site rather than “in the cloud.” When I’m not writing romances, I’m usually writing something for the high tech industry, so out of necessity, I use the phrase “on-premises” rather frequently in my work.

I would estimate that roughly half of my clients remove the final s.

Since, they are paying my bills, I rather politely suggest that it is necessary. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t. Some don’t really care much one way or another. But, since none of my clients read my writing blog, I am going to scream it from the top of my lungs here: on-premise is wrong.

According to Dictionary.com, a premise is a proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. Premises has a few definitions, but all having to do with property. As an example, it would be proper to say, “Elvis has left the premises” but not “Elvis has left the premise.”

But because not enough people care, you can find on-premise everywhere. Even mixed with examples of on-premises on the same web page. The one thing that drives me nuts more than poor word usage is lack of consistency. If you’re going to get it wrong, at least pretend that you think you’re correct.

<heavy sigh>


Did the Continental Association Attempt to End the Slave Trade in America?

I was doing a little research on the Continental Association for my final draft of my current manuscript – just to make sure I got the dates correct. I know it’s “just a romance novel,” but believe it or not, historical romance readers actually care about these things.

Side note: I am still open to beta readers if anyone is interested! I know it can be frustrating to read a WIP. However, this one has already gone through a couple rounds of beta and countless rounds of editing, so it’s well beyond the rough draft stage. See "Featured Post" int he sidebar to the right for more info.

Anyway, I was reading up on the Continental Association and came across an interesting clause. For those of you unfamiliar with this initiative (for lack of a better word) let me give you some background. Perhaps I should start back a few years…

Widely associated with the Revolution, this well-
known image was actually created during the 
French and Indian War. The slogan may seem a bit 
dark, but I do appreciate their use of the comma, 
don't you?
Britain grossly overextended itself fighting the Seven Years War (Europe) and The French and Indian War (America) in the 1750s and 60s. To recoup their costs, they levied numerous taxes on the American colonies. After all, the F&I War was fought to protect the colonists, why shouldn’t they have a hand in paying for it? Or so the logic went.

The names of the acts that implemented these taxes will be familiar to most of us who went through elementary school in the U.S. (Or maybe not, given some of the recent “man on the street” polls I’ve seen lately.) The primary ones in question are The Stamp Act, which effectively taxed anything printed on paper, and The Townshend Acts, which taxed a number of different types of goods.

Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the 
Exchequer and instigator of the 
eponymous Towshend Acts, died
before they were enacted.

In response, Americans formed non-importation and non-consumption associations. Essentially, these were boycotts on British goods that attempted to force parliament to repeal the taxes. For the most part, they worked, and parliament repealed all but the tax on tea.

“Not good enough!” said the colonists, and they dumped tea into Massachusetts Bay in what became known as The Boston Tea Party.

As you might imagine, parliament was not fond of being made to look the fool, so they implemented what the Americans called The Intolerable Acts. Parliament’s name for these acts, the Coercive Acts, was only slightly less odious. But, both were apt descriptions because they allowed for things such as the quartering of soldiers in civilian homes (and barns), the closing of the Port of Boston, and the revoking of the Massachusetts charter, which removed their right to self-govern. Odious in the extreme for the Americans of the day.

Broadside from 1765. "Distributor of Stamps"
was probably not one of the more sought-after
job descriptions in American by this time. 
The purpose of these acts was to punish the Americans and force them to give up those behind The Boston Tea Party. No one was ever caught or prosecuted, leading me to believe that this might just be the most famous unsolved crime in American history.

Update: Apparently one man was arrested an imprisoned. A Mr. Francis Akeley. Doing a little more research on the poor guy. I'm dying to know how he managed to get caught.

After the Intolerable Acts were passed, The Continental Congress created the Continental Association which imposed a ban on importing or consuming any goods from Britain, Ireland and the British West Indies. The association also allowed the colonies to set up enforcement groups or use existing groups such as the Committees of Correspondence to ensure these bans were followed.

All but one colony did so. At first, I suspected Rhode Island of holding out because they were always going against the grain back in the day. But then I read the second point in the Continental Association text:

We will neither import nor purchase any slave imported after the first day of December next; after which time, we will wholly discontinue the slave trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are concerned in it.

Examining the full text in greater detail, I discovered Georgia was the missing colony. Actually, Georgia didn’t even make it to the First Continental Congress. The reason most history books give is that they had prospered under British rule and they felt they still needed protection from the Indians. Maybe so. But had they attended, I’m guessing the aforementioned clause would not have made it into the Continental Association in the same way it never made it into the Declaration of Independence.


Review: Finding Your Voice

My critique group decided to take a break from our usual meeting plan to read a book on the craft of writing and discuss it as a group. One of our members suggested Finding YourVoice: Make Your Writing Unique and Unforgettable by Bria Quinlan and Jeannie Lin. It was a good choice.

First, let me say that this is going to be one of those “sort-of” reviews. I’ll talk a J
Amazon link
bit about what I did and didn’t like about the book, but I’m also going to focus on what I learned from it about my own writing. My hope is that by giving you the full picture you can decide if the book can help you with your craft. Plus, I’ll be honest, it gives me a chance to talk about my work.

At our critique group meeting last night, there was one comment that was almost universally agreed upon. The first portion of the book on “emerging voice” wasn’t as valuable as the second and third sections on “core voice” and “signature voice.” That’s partially due to the less concrete nature of the content, i.e., it focused more on what voice is not than what voice is. But, it’s also largely due to the fact that everyone in our group, published and unpublished alike, already has a voice, whether we could describe it or not.

We also had some pretty interesting discussions on what is voice vs. what is plot and style. For example, I tend not to set up a lot of interpersonal conflict between my main characters, letting the time period and circumstances do it for me. Another member of our group tends to favor wounded heroes. We decided both of those examples were more style/plot preferences than voice. Not sure Jeannie and Bria would agree, but it’s probably not worth arguing over. (As I said, I’m not a big fan of interpersonal conflict.)

What I loved about the book is that it helped me identify some things that are a distinct part of my voice:

Sentence structure – Since I write historicals, my sentences tend to be longer and more lyrical. They help me set the scene. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can use shorter sentences to increase the tension. It just wouldn’t seem quite right if I used shorter sentences throughout. (In our discussion in sentence structure, the editor in our group lamented a time when everyone was told to “write like Hemingway.”)

The book did a good job of pointing out some flaws I made early on in my writing career. For example, I’ve always lived participle phrases. Don’t know why. I also tend to start paragraphs the same way. Luckily, I had editors point these flaws out to me along the way, but I’m sure if I went back to my earliest writing, I would just cringe.

Word choice – We had a good discussion on how each of us chooses the right word. Some stick on that word until they get it right. I tend to write my first draft with the first word that comes to mind. Then, in subsequent revisions, I will either scale it up or scale it down. I may even change my mind half a dozen times. While I think historical romance readers tend to have a fairly broad vocabulary, I don’t want to choose a word that is so obscure it would lose its effect. Plus, I don’t want to re-look it up later only to find out I used it incorrectly. 

Humor – While I don’t write “funny”, I love to add touches of wry humor in my stories to give them a little sparkle. For example, in Le Chevalier, when the hero first meets the heroine, she is wearing a dress the same shade as the background in the flowered (big, purple peonies) wallpaper as if she is intentionally trying not to be noticed. (she is) Then, the inevitable happens. Someone spills wine on her dress:

Amazon link
She scowled at the man’s back, but said nothing. He must have sensed her eyes on the back of his neck, however, because at that moment he spun around. His wine glass led the way, and before he noticed her, he knocked it against her shoulder and spilled a burgundy stream down the front of her dress.

Mont Trignon recovered himself just in time to avoid a belly laugh. Now the poor woman matched the wallpaper perfectly.

Interestingly, word choice and humor are two things I hone in on when I ghost write for executives in my day job. While I may not structure my sentences the way they do – especially for the non-native English speakers – I try never to use a word they wouldn’t use. I also pay careful attention to the level and types of humor with which they are comfortable. For example, I think some of my female execs were told they needed to be serious in order to be taken seriously. I don’t even attempt mild humor in the pieces I write for them. Other execs are quite comfortable with humor and are even good with borderline snarky. (Though I admit I don’t do snarky well. Again, it’s the conflict thing.)

All in all, I think it was a well-written book on craft that writers of all levels can appreciate. The authors give plenty of exercises throughout. I marked half a dozen that I will come back to as I work through the revisions in my current manuscript.