Lauren Shippen, author of The Bright Sessions series, discusses her ideology of the flexibility of grammar and language — and how despite this, her mother's grammar pet peeves have become her own.
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Lauren Shippen: I absolutely love the word “gloaming." It’s another word for dusk or twilight, but to me, there’s something special and unique about the time that is “the gloaming." The moment right as the sun slips below the horizon, and everything glows. It’s such a poetic, magical word for a poetic, magical kind of moment that lasts only an instant.
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
LS: As recently as a few years ago, the world “gaslight” wasn’t used very often—I remember writing it into a script and that being the first time many folks encountered it as a term. Now it’s used constantly online and—while it’s an incredibly useful word (with a fascinating origin)—people use it wrong. A lot. It’s a word I still personally love, but I wish we deployed it a bit more specifically as a culture.
GG: What word will you always misspell?
LS: "Occurring." Every. Single. Time. Even right now, looking at it here, I’m not sure I spelled it right.
GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?
LS: I use “lol” a lot in texts and all kinds of online communication, even in handwritten communication sometimes too. Always all lowercased and usually not an indicator of me actually laughing out loud. It conveys an emotion that I can’t quite put words to, but that is not communicated through any other word, so I would love to see what a definition for it would even be.
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
LS: I’m very much of the mind that grammar and language evolve and shift, and as long as we’re striving for clarity in communication and everyone understands the meaning of something, we can be fast and loose with a lot of strict rules. That said, it drives me bonkers when people use “less” when they could and should be using “fewer.” My mother drilled the difference into me growing up, and I would always make the argument I just made above, but it eventually wormed its way into my subconscious and now her pet peeve is my pet peeve.
Grammar and language evolve and shift, and as long as we’re striving for clarity in communication and everyone understands the meaning of something, we can be fast and loose with a lot of strict rules.
GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?
LS: Coming from a voice acting/voice writing background that brought me into books, grammar is a huge part of how I figure out character voice! I always start with the way they speak—how formal they are, how much slang they use, if they swear, if they make the distinction between “less” and “fewer,” etc.
I always start with the dialogue and work backward from there into their internal voice.
GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?
LS: “Somewhere between God and the Devil passion is and the way there is sudden and the way back is worse.” - "The Passion," Jeanette Winterson. That book is as close to a perfect piece of art I’ve ever experienced.
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
LS: I am an absolutely terrible over-user of commas and, increasingly, I’m finding that I place them in sentences where a natural break would be when speaking, which is not always the correct place in the written word!