Grammar Quirks: Michael Donkor on the Word 'Authenticity'

Michael Donkor, author of "Hold" and "Housegirl," discusses the troubling overuse of the word "authenticity" and the need to defy the rules of grammar for fiction writing. 

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

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

Michael Donkor: "Mumpsimus." It's a person who stubbornly clings to beliefs or ideas even when those beliefs or ideas are shown to be flawed. It’s such a fun word to say!

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

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MD: "Authenticity." This word is bandied around so much at the moment, often in quite lazy and unthinking ways. What does "authenticity" actually mean? Convincing? Realistic? Relatable? Recognizable? Positive? All of the above?

Equally, I find the ubiquity of this word in literary criticism quite troubling. Particularly for fiction writers dealing with identity politics, the demand that the portrayal of marginalized peoples is, first and foremost, "authentic" runs the risk of limiting writers’ creative freedom.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

MD: "Parsley" and "curiosity."

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

MD: A term that succinctly encapsulates the feeling when you wake up in the morning and momentarily think it's the weekend then realize that, in fact, a difficult working day lies ahead!

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

MD: Is this a peeve? I constantly chastise myself for not maintaining a constant view on the Oxford/serial comma.

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

MD: In my debut novel, "Hold," I’ve tried hard to explore and engagingly stylize the features of urban British slang and Ghanaian English, and so in lots of instances, I had to defy the rules of conventional or standard grammar, which felt simultaneously risky and liberating!

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

MD: "Thy firmness makes my circle just, / And makes me end, where I begun."

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by John Donne.

I love the immediacy and vibrancy of Donne’s poetry, and this line is a wonderful example of the startling emotional honesty that characterizes the best of his work.

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

MD: Keeping my sentences precise and purposeful, and not overloading them with distracting adjectives and adverbs, is always a challenge!


Author Bio:

Michael Donkor was born in London, to Ghanaian parents. He studied English at Wadham College at the University of Oxford, undertook a masters in creative writering at Royal Holloway, and now teaches English literature to secondary school students. In 2014, his writing won him a place on the Writers' Centre Norwich Inspires Scheme, where he received a year's mentoring from Daniel Hahn. "Housegirl" is his first novel, and many of the issues in it are close to his heart.

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. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.