Grammar Quirks: Elsa Hart on Grogging

Elsa Hart, author of "The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne," shares words that she loves, dislikes, and avoids in writing. 

Elsa Hart, Writing For
2-minute read

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

Elsa Hart: "Ducdame." It’s a nonsense word that appears in "As You Like It" and is defined within the play as a Greek invocation to call fools into a circle. I got engaged after seeing the play performed, and "ducdame" is engraved on my wedding ring.

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

EH: "Pretty." More generally, physical descriptors applied to female characters as if the words convey essential information when they don’t.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

EH: "Frustrated." When I was little, I pronounced it "frusterated," and I guess I still say it that way in my head because I always have to delete the extra E after I type it.

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

EH: "Grogging," used to mean "lying in bed after you wake up and aren’t yet completely awake." I got it from my friend Anna, who was shocked to find out that it wasn’t a word known outside her family. It is now!

GG: Any grammatical pet peeves we should know about?

EH: "Lie" and "lay." One of the love songs of my teenage years has been somewhat deprived of its romance ever since I started hearing "I want to lay like this forever" and picturing the singer laying eggs in perpetuity.

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

EH: It’s a tool, but it’s one of many. Some stories benefit more than others from the manipulation of grammar in dialogue. I think it depends a lot on the world in which the story is set. Is it a world in which distinguishing characters based on how they construct sentences is a useful way to convey their unique qualities to a reader? Or is it a world in which those qualities might be more effectively communicated using other tools? What is essential in "Pygmalion" might be less so, or essential in a different way, in a work of science fiction.

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

EH: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” - The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

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

EH: I had some trouble with portals. Portals through time and space? Or portals in time and space?