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Grammar Quirks: Romy Hausmann on Rhabarbermarmelade

Romy Hausmann, author of "Sleepless," discusses her approach to the English language and how "kindness" is the most beautiful and important word she knows. 

By
Romy Hausmann, Writing for
4-minute read

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

Romy Hausmann: First of all, I have to say that my native language is German and that I’m only just starting to train myself at a level of English that does not pass as “oh how cute, at least she’s trying,” but rather as something to be taken seriously (spoiler alert: there is still a looong way to go!). Because of this, I probably approach the English language a little differently. My favorite English word is “kindness.” It sounds so beautifully light, but of course, its meaning is more important. In my short career, I have dealt with a number of people, who tend to use their elbows in life and really fight their competition. Therefore: kindness, guys! And respect. We are all just human beings. We all do our best to get through this life well, and we all have feelings that are sometimes irreparably hurt by only a few inconsiderate words.

We are all just human beings. We all do our best to get through this life well, and we all have feelings that are sometimes irreparably hurt by only a few inconsiderate words.

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

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RH: "Sexy." Unfortunately, it is still most often associated with the outward appearance of women. And it is understood in probably every language, which only makes it worse. Do you know what is really sexy? Good manners, humour, courage, and, yes, kindness. Kindness is sexy. Damn it, now I used it myself.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

RH: As a non-native speaker, I struggle with pretty much any word that is spelled almost identically to another word that has a completely different meaning, often differing by just one letter. I've sat in restaurants and talked to people about the "desert," yet all I wanted was a chocolate mousse.

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

RH: “Rhabarbermarmelade.” I mean, okay, it’s just the German expression for “rhubarb jam,” and you wouldn’t really need it in your dictionary. But it's a fun word, both in its spelling and in its pronunciation. It sounds like a drunken Viking mumbling under his beard.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

RH: Hahaha, that’s a good one. You know better about pet peeves than I do. I'm the one who still writes "The police is coming" even though I've been told a thousand times that ‘the police’ is a collective noun in English.

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

RH: I think grammar plays a big role. In real life, we speak differently to the way we write; it is spontaneous, unplanned, often thoughtless, and therefore it says a lot about what state we are currently in. To reproduce this in written dialogues makes a story—and thus the character in question—more authentic.

We speak differently to the way we write; it is spontaneous, unplanned, often thoughtless, and therefore it says a lot about what state we are currently in.

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

RH: From Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”:

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

This sentence triggers a lot in me. We often have to deal with people in our lives who, objectively speaking, are superior to us, or with situations that scare us. So we tend to think that we have no chance and give up immediately. But to try it anyway, that's courage. It doesn't matter if we win. But who knows? Sometimes trying does lead to success. Let’s just think of Thomas A. Edison, who said after countless unsuccessful attempts to develop the light bulb: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” In the end, it did work for Edison. And why? Because he had the courage to believe in himself.

Let me write a long sentence in English and I swear I'll make a Picasso out of it: all the parts are there but mixed up so wildly that it will make you dizzy.

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

RH: I wrote a blog article this week — in English. And once again I noticed how much the word order in English sentences differs to that in German. You would say: She often reads books. In German it would be: She reads often books. Okay, that's just a short sentence, I can manage that. But us authors love extravagant explanations and relative clauses, don't we? Let me write a long sentence in English and I swear I'll make a Picasso out of it: all the parts are there but mixed up so wildly that it will make you dizzy.