Grammar Quirks: Sandie Jones on the Word 'Whoops-a-Daisy'
"The Other Woman" author Sandie Jones talks about her dislike of the word "sick," how the term "whoops-a-daisy" should be added to the dictionary, and her grammar pet peeves.
Grammar Girl: What’s your favorite word and why?
Sandie Jones: "Discombobulated" always makes me smile whenever I hear it, especially when it’s used wrongly! I recently overheard a customer asking someone in a pharmacy if their medicine had been "discombobulated." The concerned pharmacist checked the system for known side-effects and said:
“It shouldn’t make you feel like that.”
“So, it hasn’t then?” asked the customer.
“Been discontinued?” she said.
I wouldn’t mind, but discontinued is surely much easier to recall than discombobulated? I use it as much as I can—I love that it sounds how it feels—I can’t even say it without shaking myself down!
GG: What’s a word you dislike (either because it’s overused or misused) and why?
SJ: "Sick." Back in the old days, when I was young, this was a word used to describe feeling unwell. I hated it even then, because it was always bad news; either for myself or for the friend I was anxiously waiting for, only for my mum to look at me with a pained expression and say, "Lisa can’t come over to play today as she’s sick." But, it was better than the retch-inducing alternatives of vomit or "throw-up," both of which would render me to do so at the mere mention of the word.
Now, much to my chagrin, "sick" is used by my own children to describe something good. How is that even possible? Or remotely apt? When they’re watching YouTube and say, "That’s sick!" I fear the worst and demand to see what they’re looking at. But then they show me a video of a puppy doing tricks. Apparently, that’s "sick" in a good way!
GG: What word will you always misspell?
SJ: "Mediterrean"—see I told you! I pride myself on my spelling ability and there are very few words I get wrong. But no matter how many times I write "meditteraen," I misspell it again and again, and never in the same way.
GG: What word (or semblance of a word) would you like to see added to the dictionary? Why?
SJ: "Whoops-a-daisy" is a very English term, that was probably brought stateside by the film "Notting Hill." After the brilliant dinner party scene, Hugh Grant attempts to climb over railings into a private garden in an effort to impress Julia Roberts. He loses his footing and says “whoops-a-daisy.” It was only Julia Roberts's hysterical reaction that made me realize it's not a term common in America. But I think it’s a fabulous expression that says so much, and should be recognized everywhere, not least in the dictionary!
GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?
SJ: All of them! I am a stickler for grammar, and if I see a comma in the wrong place, either in my own work or someone else’s, I’ve been known to break out in hives! I can’t bear to see a misplaced semicolon or a space between a word and the punctuation mark. Incorrect grammar jumps out from a page at me, and I cannot comprehend how other people can’t see it. But then I’m a words person and I’m sure I equally frustrate the number people around me when I can’t understand the figures they’re presenting me with.
GG: To what extent does grammar play a role in character development and voice?
SJ: Grammar is everything in character development. Giving different characters different voices allows their personality and traits to come to life. Sometimes, it’s not what they say, but how they say it. You can use grammar to allude to someone’s background, class, or even where they’re from, without actually stating the fact. In this instance—as much as it pains me!—the language used doesn’t have to be grammatically correct.
GG: Do you have a favorite quote or passage from an author you’d like to share?
SJ: I love the quote from Lee Child: “Writing is showbusiness for shy people.” That sums me up perfectly.
Being a writer is often a lonely and isolated job, but I love it, and I sometimes wonder if it chose me, rather than me choosing it.
Now that I’m an author, I’m in the privileged position of my work going out into the big, wide, glamorous world of publishing, yet nobody knows who I am. The perfect combination!
GG: What grammar, wording, or punctuation problem did you struggle with this week?
SJ: I always struggle to find the right word when I’m writing. I know what I’m trying to say, and I know that the word I’m looking for starts with a C, but I can be sat tapping on my desk for quite some time before I give in to the thesaurus. Or else, I’ll call out to my husband, who invariably knows what I’m trying to say better than I know myself.
“What’s that word when you give something to someone in place of something they’ve lost?”
“Compensate?” he says, before I can even say that it begins with C!
That’s something that has always puzzled me; how can my brain know what letter a word starts with but not know the word itself? That just doesn’t make sense!