Grammar Quirks: Amanda Foody on Her Vocabulary War

Amanda Foody, author of "All of Us Villains," discusses how fun it is to write for YA and middle grade audiences and how this leads her to make up words that aren't in the dictionary. 

Amanda Foody, Writing for
4-minute read

Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?

AF: It feels impossible to pick a true favorite, but as an author who publishes both YA and middle grade, I take such delight in word choices that carry whimsical or silly connotations, the sort often too juvenile to suit an edgy YA novel. Words like “snivelling” and “scuttled,” “grubby” or “glum.” They’re mostly exclusive to my middle grade writing, but they bring me such joy.

GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?

AF: I have no words I dislike. Even the dreaded “moist” is welcome at my table.

Why People Hate Words Like 'Moist'

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GG: What word will you always misspell?

AF: My constant confusion between “epigraph” and “epitaph” has led to many an amused Google Doc comment from Christine whenever I dub the quotes at the top of each chapter of "All of Us Villains" as the sort that belong on a tombstone. Christine has corrected me dozens of times, and I still could not tell you which is which.

GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?

AF: Oh! I wish I had a better memory because truly I so often include words in my manuscripts that I’m eventually informed are complete jibberish. I fight back emphatically on every single instance only to look increasingly ridiculous. In my great vocabulary war with the English langauge, English is very decidedly undefeated.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

AF: I try not to judge grammatical errors, as, established above, the English language no doubt regards me as a fool. But one mistake that always amuses me is when people incorrectly say “This person and I” when—per that grammatical construction—the correct phase is “This person and me.” As though they’re making an effort to circumnavigate a potential error when there wasn’t one to begin with. Justice for the objective case!

Grammar Girl's Between You and Me

GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?

AF: Grammar is a necessary consideration in choosing a character’s dialect or speaking patterns. This is especially true for dialogue, but it can even be true for narrative. The formality (or informality) of a character’s inner voice reveals a lot about who they are as a person, and, even more broadly, that narrative voice is crucial in shaping the tone of the entire story. I also very much regard grammar as a tool, not a legal authority. If the meaning of my sentence remains clear, than damn it, I should have that superfluous comma if I want it. For the *aesthetic*.

GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?

AF: I have so many—a whole document full of them to ponder over when I’m feeling particularly studious. And I have a special love for beginnings. There’s a performativeness to that first impression that I love.

Here is the opening of "Spinning Silver" by Naomi Novik—hopefully accurate, as I’m transcribing from my own notes and not the book.

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a price, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender is in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.

The opening paragraph that utterly soils the classic fairy tale, transforming something wonderous and nostalgic into something base—and all with the tone of airing dirty laundry. The run on sentences with the lilting rhythm. The detail. All to be followed by a brief paragraph of suddenly short, crisp sentences. The introduction of first person. The surprising conclusion the narrator takes. The casual tone, as if the reader is being spoken to. How was I not supposed to be immediately smitten?

GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?

AF: I’m currently drafting, a process in which I’m expected to produce words but somehow manage to forget every word I’ve ever known. I shudder to imagine how many uses of “gaze” there are in my manuscript right now. Everyone is looking everywhere, broodily.