Grammar Quirks: Julia Armfield on 'Tentacularly'

Julia Armfield, author of "salt slow," discusses earworm-words, how dialogue affects a character's voice, and her favorite Lemony Snicket quote. 

Mignon Fogarty
3-minute read
salt slow

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

Julia Armfield: It changes a lot but possibly “schism” because it sounds like ice in a glass.

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

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JA: I can’t stand the word “chicanery,” for no other reason than whenever I think about it, it then repeats itself fifteen to twenty times in my head. I think some words do have that sort of earworm quality, like a piece of music from an advert that you can’t stop humming and that slowly drives you insane. It’s happening now, as I’m typing: the word “chicanery” going around and around in my head.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

JA: “Embarrassing,” embarrassingly enough.

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

JA: I’m not entirely sure about this one! In the dedication of my book, I use the word “tentacularly,” which I think would be a good one. I think of it as a way to describe something slippery, many-limbed, powerful. The dedication of my book thanks my family “tentacularly,” which seems appropriate to me.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

JA: Not particularly, although purely on a taste level, I quite dislike it when fiction writers use italics for emphasis. Most of the time, I feel like the point being made should be able to speak for itself without the author having to lean on the text to make it obvious.

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

JA: I think the ways in which dialogue is split up can certainly impact a character’s voice because so much of the sound of people can be found in the pauses rather than the talking. You can mine so much of a character’s voice from the way they pause between words or run things together, the difference in the shape of a hyphen, an ellipsis, a comma and so on.

You can mine so much of a character’s voice from the way they pause between words or run things together, the difference in the shape of a hyphen, an ellipsis, a comma and so on.

Julia Armfield

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

JA: This is apropos of nothing very much, but I was talking to a friend about Lemony Snicket’s “The Ersatz Elevator” the other day (which I think is my favourite installment from "A Series of Unfortunate Events") and this quote occurred to me then: “There are many, many things that are difficult in this life, but one thing that isn’t difficult at all is figuring out whether someone is excited or not when they open a present.”

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

JA: It’s not only a current problem, but I seem to be in a constant state of war with the semicolon, in that I use them endlessly with only the faintest idea of what they are actually for.


About the Author:

Julia Armfield is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in The White Review, Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazineand The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017 and won the White Review Short Story Prize with two of the stories in her collection "salt slow." She lives in London, where she is at work on her debut novel.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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