Augusten Burroughs talks about punctuation preferences, language evolution, and an Emily Dickinson quote.
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Augusten Burroughs: Maybe right here and now my favorite word is newfangled, which means “new” but requires seven more letters and two additional syllables to express exactly the same thing. "Newfangled" is Middle English, but the word archeologists say "newfangled" is derived from is “newfangle,” which debuted on the world stage in the early thirteenth century. As a word it’s like Princess Diana’s wedding dress, which had a twenty-five foot train. Now, even “new” might be too long. Soon it’ll be “nu.” Is this better? It’s shorter. So we’re getting faster and faster. At what?
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
AB: Love. It isn’t pleasant to say, first of all. "Luhv." It is a dim-witted noise, almost not a word but an emission like a burp or a sigh. Like you should apologize and say “Excuse me” after saying it. But the larger issue is that it has so many meanings and degrees of meaning that it has no meaning at all.
Pet peeves age you.
GG: What word will you always misspell?
AB: "Independence." I always make it dance at the end.
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
AB: Language evolves, so I try not to be attached to grammatical “rules” because they will change. I’m conscious of not fighting this evolution but of learning it. Pet peeves age you.
GG: Do you have a favorite quotation or passage from an author you’d like to share?
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies
This is so gorgeous. It’s not universally true but it is selectively true. And I know flesh and blood people whose statures do indeed touch the skies, even on an ordinary Thursday. Some beautiful people are always called to rise.
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
AB: I don’t struggle with these issues, really. I have better-than-passable grammar; wording is never an issue for me because my vocabulary is both tiny and fixed for life; punctuation is something I have a feel for intuitively, and I am probably correct 85% of the time. I use too many commas, but I use them to put the breaks on your pace of reading, to slow you down into the musical rhythm of the text. But it gets corrected, professionalized. I get saved from myself.