Grammar Quirks: Daniel Torday on Pronunciation Pet Peeves

Daniel Torday, author of "Boomer1," talks about concision in speaking, "qwerty-ing" a text, and offers readers an excerpt on language ticks from his new book.

Mignon Fogarty,

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

Daniel Torday: "Justice." Listen to those internal rhymes! Listen to how it starts, like a simile, to say “just”—but then it shifts. Look at how badly we need more of it in our world, right now.

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

DT: The neologistic way people refer to themselves as "myself" when they mean "me" hurts my ear a bit. I think as a novelist, or a short story writer especially, you’re always looking for concision. To say it tight. So when someone starts calling themselves "myself," I kinda wanna take out my red pen. I can almost see that little Microsoft Word green grammar squiggle hanging in the air.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

DT: I will literally never be able to learn how to spell the word "gray/grey." One is British. One is American. My second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Gray/Grey. Hers was spelled the British way. I just won’t ever know. And how’s this for a fun fact: my nine-year-old daughter’s teacher this year is named...wait for it...Miss Gray. Grey. I just don’t know.

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

Cassie has a serious pet peeve against adverbs, but weirdly she uses them ALL THE TIME while not noticing.

DT: With all the thumb thumb thumbing we do to type on our phones and tablets, I think we need a new word other than "typed" for when we write something on a traditional keyboard or a computer. Maybe "qwertied"? As in, "I waited and qwertied you this note to make sure I got it right."

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

DT: I’m a pretty wide open descriptivist. I actually get excited when I see spoken language find its way into codified written language. That said, my new grammar pet peeve has morphed into a pronunciation pet peeve. I listen to a ton of books and podcasts these days—I run a lot, and I find when I’m doing research for a novel, it’s better to do research through Audible. But it’s opened a whole new world of mispronunciations, words actors and writers clearly have never seen before: Credulity! Penurious! Every proper noun they’ve ever encountered! It’s making my ear literally hurt. Maybe it’s time to start "Pronunciation Patty."

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

DT: Oh, it’s everything. I always write in a bunch of voices—"Boomer1" has three distinct voices in Mark, Cassie, and Julia. So much of capturing those voices comes from syntax. Mark has a PhD in English and at one point he goes on a tirade about some of the neologisms that drive him crazy. Cassie has a serious pet peeve against adverbs, but weirdly she uses them ALL THE TIME while not noticing. Julia is a baby boomer, and her language is a bit more lugubrious, Faulknerian, and what a schoolmarmish comp might identify as "overuse of comma splices." I love her.


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