Even award-winning authors have grammar preferences and peeves. When reading a great book by a great author, do you — like me — find yourself thinking, “You must have a word you always misspell too. What do people say that bugs you? What is your favorite word?”
I was excited to hear what Daniel Stashower had to say about his grammar loves and challenges. Daniel is a New York Times bestselling author who recently released his historical true-crime story “American Demon.” If you’re looking for a thrilling tale of a sadistic killer hiding in plain sight, check out “American Demon.”
Now, on to Daniel’s grammar quirks!
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
A: “Tintinnabulation.” When I was growing up, my mother had an arsenal of favorite lines from literature that she could deploy at a moment’s notice. For instance, if one of us didn’t finish all the Brussel sprouts on his plate, she’d say, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” We lived within earshot of a large church, and whenever the bells would ring, my mother went straight to Edgar Allan Poe:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells . . .
I still hear her voice in that poem, and especially the pleasure she took in spinning out the beats of “tintinnabulation.”
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
A: I think “literally” is almost a given, but I also have a private grudge against “lugubrious.” I was taught that it means mournful to an exaggerated or ludicrous degree, but it seems to have subsided into being an everyday synonym for sad. I find that lugubrious.
GG: What word will you always misspell?
A: Separate. A simple word, but I have an intense block.
GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?
A: That would have to be “Fafoofian.” It’s a word created by one of my sons, while writing a poem about someone who was “stuck on the roof again.” It got him out of a jam.
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
A: I know this isn’t a grammar issue, but it’s been a struggle to adjust to a world in which we only put one space after a period, between sentences. I’m a habitual two-spacer, even though I know it’s a relic from the era of typewriters. (I’m also a relic from the era of typewriters.)
GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?
A: Absolutely! “To Sherlock Holmes, she was always the woman.” It’s the opening line of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first story of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” and I can honestly say that it changed my life. The whole opening paragraph of that story is magnificent.
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
A: Forming the possessive in a last name that ends in “s” or double-“s.” Which is a hell of a thing to admit, having just written a book about Eliot Ness.
Thank you to Daniel Stashower for his fantastic responses. Be sure to check out his latest book “American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America’s Jack the Ripper.”