Grammar Quirks: Ilana C. Myer on Letters as Colors

Ilana C. Myer, author of "The Poet King," discusses synesthesia, grammar pet peeves, and how to create character voices. 

Ilana C. Myer, Writing For
2-minute read
the poet king

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

Ilana C. Myer: I gravitate to words that are small and packed with meaning. Words with layers of history under the silt. That means, of course, that I have many favorite words—I could never choose just one.

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I should come clean and admit that I also have synesthesia—I see letters in different colors. When letters join to create a word, it is a lovely cascade of color like the tail of a peacock. I may be influenced in some ways, in my choice of words, by the colors I see. There’s no way to know for sure.

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

ICM: I avoid words that represent a recent fad or trend. Maybe it’s my stubborn resistance to conformity, but nonetheless. I’d rather find my own way to express a thought than resort to the common parlance.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

ICM:Bureaucracy” is a killer. It may be the only word I have to look up every single time. Given its definition, there’s something poetic in that.

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

ICM: There should be a word for the grief experienced when you run out of ice cream in the freezer. Why not?

I may be influenced in some ways, in my choice of words, by the colors I see.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

ICM: I have so many. One that particularly bugs me is the misuse of “lay/laid.” It seems fairly straightforward to me that we would say “He lay down on the hammock” not “He laid down,” and yet. And yet. (Now if you wanted to say “He laid down the law,” that’s another thing altogether!)

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

ICM:  If a character is to have an individual voice, then ideally you’ll pay a great deal of attention to how they sound—whether it’s in dialogue or in their internal monologue. That means many subtle decisions, some even unconscious, as to how these sentences are constructed.

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

ICM: While I can’t think of specific passages just now, I recently read "Leave it to Psmith" by P.G. Wodehouse, and was struck by the way much of the humor is bound up in wordplay and sentence structure. It’s wonderful.

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

ICM: I went back and forth several times this week as to whether a particular situation called for an em dash or an ellipsis. I finally settled on the em dash, but until the final draft is in—you never know!