The Internet brings unprecedented opportunity, but it can also kill your writing career if you’re not careful! Don’t let DomainNameInfluence erase the grammar rules you learned in school.
I recently read a grammar and editing column in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press. In June Casagrande’s “A Word, Please,” she groused about the problems so many writers have with hyphens. She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence of the Internet (and texting, Twitter, and email, etc.) on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices. There’s enough out there to give the average author who scored As in English a huge headache!
Casagrande mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the things we authors must contend with. But that is just the beginning: the Internet encourages us to push all kinds of words together. Let’s call it the “domain name influence,” or the DomainNameInfluence, or maybe #hashtaginfluence. Do we write “book cover” or “bookcover?” “Backmatter” or “back matter?” “Hard copy” or “hardcopy?” We may never know, because the trusted Chicago Manual of Style generally doesn’t weigh in on these trends and dictionaries haven’t caught up with the quickly changing domainnameinfluence/#hashtaginfluence movement either. And the spell checker in Word? Well, it doesn’t put a red squiggle under either “Hard copy” or “hardcopy.” That leaves the writer — whether you’re writing fiction, a blog post, or a cover letter — in a style-choice pickle.
In The Frugal Editor, I suggest a zero-tolerance approach to creative grammar to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (in an effort to increase the chances you’ll get published). Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. The word “therefore” is an example. We’ve been using words like this for eons. Word-gluing goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots. German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things like push the words for “finger” and “hat” together to make the word for “thimble” (“fingerhut”).
Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, unless I am trying to get something like a pitch, query, or book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make combined-word style choices for myself and let the so-called rules be damned. We authors can have it our way — we just need to be careful where we choose to exercise our independence!
Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, don’t put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. If you think your contact believes it’s nonfiction, not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style choice. You won’t get a red squiggle with either version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker), but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer won’t be more judgmental.
I could go on and on about the way the Internet has misled us. It coaxes us to overuse ampersands. We see question marks, exclamation points, caps, and titles overused. There is improperly punctuated dialogue. What happens when we emulate those affectations because they start to become so familiar we think they’re being used correctly? Agents and publishers will hate it, that’s what. And that can be disastrous for your writing career.
There are many other grammar idiosyncrasies your English teacher never taught you that are sure to annoy the feature editor at The New York Times or the powerful agent you want to impress.
The list is endless. Luckily, there are grammar books like June Casagrande’s Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (and my Frugal Editor!) to help get us through the grammar and syntax swamps.
Want a quick grammar lesson? “Weird Al” Yankovic attacks dangling participles, misused contractions, and more in “Word Crimes,” a sendup (send-up?) of Robin Thicke’s hit, “Blurred Lines.”
What writing rules do you live by (and which ones do you break)?
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