Grammar, and other pointless trivia

Posted on October 30, 2009 (Subscribe to Blog)

I wondered if y'all would be interested to know what kinds of daft things I've had to edit in my Labyrinth of Fire manuscript. I doubt this post will interest everyone, but maybe a few of you get hung up on equally silly things. In my case I have a few extra hang-ups because although I live in America and have chosen to adopt American English as my primary language, I'm still British and this tends to show through sometimes.

For example, words that end with "-ward" in the US tend to be "-wards" in the UK, like backwards, afterwards, forwards, inwards, outwards, downwards, upwards, etc.

Then there are words like dreamt vs. dreamed, and leapt vs. leaped. For some reason I have no problem switching from "dreamt" to "dreamed," but I cannot stand the idea of using "leaped." In the end I used "dreamed" and "leapt" – sometimes either is okay as long as the text is consistent. But I might change my mind about this...

Now take burnt vs. burned. There's an argument that says "burnt" is an adjective whereas "burned" is a verb, so you might say "the burnt house" and "the house burned."

Another funny one is crept vs. creeped. You can say "creep into a tent" or "he crept into the tent" but "creeped" is normally reserved for "he creeped me out" (a different meaning altogether).

It seems like Americans just stick "-ed" on the end of everything, like spelt vs. spelled. But then along comes the word "dived" which is used primarily in the UK and is laughed at in the US. Just to be awkward the US uses "dove."

Moving onto might vs. may, many think "may" is preferable. You can say "I may go to the party" or "I might go to the party," and some will say that "may" is more correct, and that "might" is used in past tense such as "I might have gone to the party if I had known about it." So why do I use "might" far more often? I don't know if this is a British vs. American thing, or just me. In any case I decided to leave all my uses of "might" and my occasional uses of "may" – a guy could drive himself mad worrying about this stuff!

When I was at school, the plural of "hoof" was always "hooves." But the plural of "roof" is not "rooves," it's "roofs." So why can't I use "hoofs" instead? Turns out I can, according to both my American AND British dictionaries. Who knew? Not me, apparently. It's funny what you learn and then have to unlearn.

In England it's "storey/storeys" when referring to floors of a building, and "story/stories" for tales. In America it's just "story/stories" for both. I kind of miss the "-ey" ending. (Just as an aside, in England the lowest level of a four-storey building is the ground floor, with first, second and third above. In America, a four-story building's lowest level is the first floor, with second, third and fourth above. There's a four-story building in my book and I removed the bit where it said they "entered the first floor" as that might confuse British folks!)

Some say that "anymore" is better than "any more" but "any time" is better than "anytime." To be safe, I've just stuck with "any more" and "any time."

Switching to a different subject, I wondered what dragon groupings are called. You know how you have a herd of elephants and a litter of kittens? Many of these grouping names are shared, for instance you can also have a herd of horses and a litter of puppies. But I was surprised to realize that, in addition to a flock of birds and a flock of sheep, you can also have a flock of elephants as well as a herd of sheep! I wasted many minutes on the internet looking up this stuff. Grr!

But what about dragons? There are no such things (no, really, they're make-believe), but I guess they're fairly close to alligators, so I used alligators as a starting point. So we have a bull (male), a cow (female), and a hatchling (young 'un). You can have a congregation or bask of alligators, so I guess that works for dragons too... only I preferred to use a fleet of dragons, thinking I'd heard that term before. Turns out I can't find much about a fleet of dragons anywhere, so maybe I dreamed/dreamt it!

Then there's the place where dragons live. Typically this is a lair, although I see a lair more as a cave for a single family of dragons rather than the entire fleet or congregation. So I decided on kingdom, which seems to suit dragons well. I looked it up and "kingdom of dragons" shows up quite a lot.

While writing Labyrinth of Fire I used a phrase, "cute as a button." I was told this should be "bright as a button." Well, it turns out that both phrases are fine, but "cute" is American while "bright" is British:

"Cute as a button" – as in the button quail, a small, gray and super fluffy bird.

"Bright as a button" – the British version of "cute as a button" which means "cute, charming, attractive, almost always with the connotation of being small."

So there you go. It always amazes me what pointless trivia I find out when I delve into something! This stuff is going to rattle around in my head for years to come. *Sigh*

Comment by NIGEL ROWE on Friday, October 30, 2009...

According to my research, it is a weyr of dragons! Weyr is pronounced as 'weir'. English grammar is a headache, your post made me spin!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, October 30, 2009...

Unless I'm mistaken, a weyr is associated with Anne McCaffrey's popular "Pern" books. The word doesn't exist in either a British or American dictionary that I can see. It's a nice word though; sounds archaic!

Comment by VANESSA ROBINSON on Friday, October 30, 2009...

"I wondered if y'all would be interested to know what kinds of daft things I've had to edit in my Labyrinth of Fire manuscript..."

Only an Englishman living in Georgia would use the words "y'all" and "daft" in the same sentence.

And not to convolute your might vs may problem you have forgot the third option. "Might oughta" which as you know is one of my faves.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, October 30, 2009...

Oh crikey! Look, wife, do you really think I should have Abigail say to Hal, "You might oughta turn into a dragon now," and Hal reply, "Fergeddit, ah'ma geddin outa here!"

Comment by MING on Friday, October 30, 2009...

Why is it that whenever someone is peeved about the English Language, it's almost always Keith that does the peeving? I never knew about all this pointless trivia, thanks for pointing it all out! (pointless and pointing?!)

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Saturday, October 31, 2009...

Did the British lady who did the Harry Potter series switch to American English for that audience? Or do American kids have the delight of seeing English spelling and idioms?

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, October 31, 2009...

Trust me, Ming, anyone who writes is going to be peeved about one rule or another! If you go searching for an answer online, you'll find numerous forums dedicated to discussing all manner of seemingly trivial things. But hey, if writers and editors weren't so picky and fussy, then the quality of books in bookshops would be pretty poor!

Ralph, I very much doubt J. K. Rowling herself had to worry about such things as changing "towards" to "toward" or removing the letter "u" from words like "colour." But her editors on the American side did. I was flicking through my American edition of one of the Potter books and found all sorts of Americanized spellings, so yes, I think her books were "converted" to some extent. Having said that, the stories are still about British kids; Harry still lives in Privet Drive, Surrey, and the Hogwarts Express still leaves platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross in London, and the kids still say things in a British way. It's just that spellings are "fixed."

Comment by ALICIA on Sunday, November 1, 2009...

Ralph, no, Scholastic just enjoys butchering British English :C. Bloody hell Keith, this was worse than an English lesson!

Comment by BRIAN B. on Wednesday, November 4, 2009...

Every day, American English makes me cringe. It sounds like a lazy interpretation of the real thing.

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