Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Edward Ashton: You’re gonna need to define “favorite” here. If you mean “most overused,” then it’s probably “really.” I had to delete about 500 examples from the first draft of "Mickey7," and there are probably still too many of them left in there. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the word that I have the most personal affection for, I’ll go with “ephemeral.” It looks good on the page, it’s fun to say, and it describes literally everything in the universe when considered at the proper time scale.
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
EA: “Portmanteau” has always gotten on my nerves. It’s the sort of word that you just can’t help imagining wearing a top hat and a monocle and droning on all evening about how things were so much better when the common words knew their place.
GG: What word will you always misspell?
EA: Beaurocracy. Burocracy. Bea… dammit!
GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?
EA: I’ve recently become a big fan of “yeet” and its derivatives “yote” and “yoten.” As of now I’m clearly too old to use them without coming in for a hail of derision, but if they were officially added to the lexicon, I feel like I’d be able to freely yeet whatever needed to be yoten without fear of reprisal.
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
EA: As a data scientist, I can get pretty snooty about the fact that “data” is in fact the plural of “datum” and cannot be used as a singular word. I know, I know, this is a losing battle, but I will never see “this data supports the proposition…” without my hackles rising. Also, the inappropriate use of ‘s to indicate plural rather than possessive really sets my teeth on edge. And don’t get me started on the whole “who vs. whom” thing, because if you haven’t gotten that distinction figured out by this point in your life, then I just…
Okay, I think I’m seeing now why I don’t get invited to a lot of parties.
GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?
EA: Honestly? Not a lot. My characters tend to speak in colloquial ways, but I’m not one to mangle grammar in order to try to mimic a particular dialect or to indicate level of education or anything like that. I know some authors do that, and it can be a powerful tool—"Flowers for Algernon" is a masterwork IMO, written mostly in ungrammatical pidgin—but it’s such a high-risk gambit that I tend to shy away.
GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?
Vonnegut. "Cat’s Cradle." Gets me every time.
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
EA: When a giant ammonite is addressing a pair of clones, is the proper pronoun “you” or “y’all”? I’ve been going back and forth on this one all day.