Paula Brackston, author of "The Little Shop of Found Things," discusses her favorite and least favorite words, and how writing historical fiction means finding a balance between old-time speech patterns and modern language styles.
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Paula Brackston: How to choose just one! I’m going to cheat and pick two equal faves. "Phantasmagoria" for its sound and the images it conjures up. "Home" for how it makes me feel.
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
PB: My least favorite word is "unfortunately." It is less to do with it being overused and more to do with the fact that whatever comes after it is rarely good news. "Thank you for attending the interview. Unfortunately..." or "We enjoyed your short story submission very much. Unfortunately..."
GG: What word will you always misspell?
PB: "Apologies." Feels like it would be more sincere with two p's.
GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?
PB: "Moodling," from the verb, "to moodle," though more commonly used as a gerund. A family word that suggests thinking something over in a ruminative sort of way. I was astounded to discover, only a few years ago, that it isn’t in the dictionary.
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
PB: I wince when I hear "off of," as in "He got off of the train…" Is that a singularly British thing?
GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?
PB: It is very important and easy to get wrong. On the plus side, when it goes right, it can really pin down the character. Origins, education, social status, so much can be put across with the right grammar. It is extremely helpful when writing historical fiction. I don’t aim to write completely authentic dialogue as that would be quite painful to read in a modern novel. Instead I strive for a stylized form that gives a flavor of the speech patterns and phrasing that would have been used, allowing the reader to hear the music of the time in the language. Or so I hope!
GG: Do you have a favorite quotation or passage from an author you'd like to share?
PB: I offer you a few choice lines from David Mitchell's sublime "Cloud Atlas":
"Uneventful journey to the Channel...cancerous suburbs, tedious farmland, soiled Sussex. Dover an utter fright...versified cliffs as Romantic as my arse and a similar hue...Bruges...leery Gothic carapaces, Ararat roofs, shrubbery-tufted brick spires, medieval overhangs, laundry sagging from windows and chipped princesses striking their hours..."
A whole book of this glory awaits you!
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
PB: When answering these questions I found myself staring long and hard at how "p's" looked on the page. Surely a plural should not have an apostrophe, and yet it is the accepted form for writing plural letters. Isn’t that odd?