Thursday, November 1, 2012

In the name of the English language…..

Just in the last three months, I have bought fourteen books.  Most deal with the subject of what to do to improve my chances of getting published, such as “77 Reasons Why Your Book was Rejected” by Mike Nappa or “No More Rejections” by Alice Orr, then progressing on to “How to Land and Keep a Literary Agent’ by Noah Lukeman, and ending in marketing instructions, as in “Publicize Your Book” by Jacqueline Deval.

Four of the books I purchased are by Mr. Robert Hartwell Fiske. These have nothing to do with publishing, instead focusing on English language (mis)usage.  In one, “The Dimwit’s Dictionary”, Mr. Fiske, a self-proclaimed ‘grumbling grammarian’, has compiled a list of what he calls ‘dimwitticisms’ - infantile words, grammatical gimmicks, ineffectual phrases, moribund metaphors and plebeian sentiments, to name a few.

After I finished reading, I opened one of my manuscripts and, with the help of  the ‘search’ window, painstakingly wrote in each expression or word from the dictionary and pressed ‘enter‘ only to find, to my dismay, that I was very guilty of their use, in (too) many cases to excess.  Though this meant I had yet more work to do on a text I thought was quite ‘polished’ already, the changes I was forced by my own embarrassment to make, improved the quality of my prose enormously, at least to my eyes (though such qualitative judgement should likely be left to others to make).  The other three books called “The Dictionary of Disagreeable English”, “The Best Words” and “Silent Language & Society” were also very instrumental in pointing out just where I had gone wrong. 

I enthusiastically subscribed to Mr. Fiske’s website: 

and one of the first articles I read was by Richard Lederer in which he gives several examples of redundancies unwittingly used by us every day, ones which are hilarious but, humor aside, which also clearly point out just how prevalent (and sadly, acceptable) bad English has become. 

To my mind, we the writers, perhaps more than anyone else, have the responsibility of being the guardians of our native language.  It is a solemn (if daunting) task, carried out through excellence in our chosen craft.  This means that all our time should be spent only on that which contributes to the perfection of our work.  Contrary to what the publishing world now requires of us, increasing out social media visibility by networking on Facebook or murdering the English language by means of Twitter (which forces us, by definition of its use, into being linguistic twits) should not be part of a writer’s ‘job description’.  Creating a monkey chain of other writers, most of whom show interest in my work largely as a quid pro quo means of creating a following for their own work, is an artifice which can only be described, in the words of Mr. Fiske, by the moribund metaphor of ‘the blind leading the blind’.  

 I would gladly pay an agent or a publisher twenty-five percent in commission, (rather than the standard fifteen) in return for having him, her or them, handle the marketing side of things, particularly since they are surely infinitely more qualified and equipped to do so than I am.  Conversely, it may be that, by publishing this post, I run the risk of getting myself black-listed for life by an entire industry (no small feat in itself!) but, compelled to speak out, I (somewhat reluctantly, I admit) stand ready to accept whatever  consequences my actions may generate.  Talk about being self-destructive... 

A.J. Aston

1 comment:

  1. I agree! Figuring out the marketing side of things is a nightmare. But I am also convinced that there are still one or two editors out there who are searching for quality craftmanship as well as an author with several books to write versus the one-hit wonders. I know it all seems discouraging, but hang in there--and more importantly--keep doing the work. You never know....


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