Grammar Quirks: Natalie Jenner on Grammar as Music

Natalie Jenner, author of "The Jane Austen Society," discusses possessives, exactitude, and her favorite Voltaire quote. 

Natalie Jenner, Writing For
2-minute read
jane austen

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

Natalie Jenner: “Exacting.” Because it sounds just as it means, and that level of exactitude is also part of its meaning, making it all very “box of cornflakes on the cover of the box of cornflakes” stuff.

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

NJ: “Enervate” used in place of “energize,” primarily because I constantly misuse it in conversation myself. If I could change the meaning of any word in the dictionary to its opposite, this one would be it.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

NJ: “Reminiscences” (of course, I just spelled it correctly here for the first time). In part, this is because anything that shares meaning with the word “remember” is going to get stuck with a second “e” by me instead of an “i” at the front end. And don’t get me started on the whole “senses” versus “scences” debacle at the end.

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

NJ: Anyways.” Apparently, anyone in Canada can identify someone from my small Ontario town by the use of this word.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

NJ: The dropping of the possessive even in casual text messaging. To my exacting Latin-schooled mind, the one time we should be grammatically accurate is when ascribing ownership to something. But this is a battle that I already know I have lost.

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

NJ: When it comes to character and voice, grammar to me is like the use of a pause in music. The use of ellipses, the hesitant and unnecessary repetition of clauses, the jumpstarting of a sentence with a verb: all of these choices can reflect a range of human qualities from thoughtfulness to humility to fear.

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

NJ: When it comes to grammar, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” (Voltaire)

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

NJ: None that I am aware of, which worries me.

About the Author

Natalie Jenner, Writing For Grammar Girl

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