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Grammar Quirks: Lillian Li on the Word 'Segue'

Author Lillian Li talks about the need for dictionary disclaimers, capturing the bilingual experience, and her grammar pet peeve (which, incidentally, is people with grammar pet peeves). 

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Number One Chinese Restaurant

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

Lillian Li: "Segue." Its pronunciation feels so at odds with its spelling that it’s just delightful to me. It’s also not an uncommon word, so its weirdness kind of hides in plain sight. 

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

LL: I’m trying to stop using the word “problematic.” It’s not the word’s fault—no one word can encompass as much complexity and history as “problematic” has been expected to communicate about our society and its issues. I just started noticing that the word “problematic” used to begin discussions, and now it’s become a stand-in for discussions we’re no longer having.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

LL: "Broccolinni." What a nightmare word!

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

LL: None, but I would like the dictionary to come with a big fat disclaimer that it is not the ultimate authority on words and their meanings, that language and its definitions are constantly evolving, and that the people who write dictionaries are as susceptible to race, class, and gender prejudices as anyone else. So maybe we can stop using dictionary definitions to win arguments/write college papers?

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

LL: My grammar pet peeve is people with grammar pet peeves. Like, live your life. Don’t be rude to other people just because you don’t believe infinitives should be split or that “their” can’t be a singular pronoun.

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