Grammar Quirks: Jessica Pennington on Email Punctuation

Jessica Pennington, author of "Meet Me at Midnight", talks about her need for the word "squee" and the difficulty of deciphering between "blonde" vs."blond" and "affect" vs. "effect". 

Jessica Pennington, Writing for
3-minute read

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

Jessica Pennington: Maybe it’s because even through childhood I was a middle-aged librarian in a child’s body, but I’ve always loved old-timey words, and "kerfuffle" is one of my favorites. It’s actually comical how often I manage to use that word in daily conversation.

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

JP: "Affect" versus "effect," because while I can always identify when someone else confuses the two, I also only have a fifty-percent success rate using them myself.

GG: What word will you always misspell or misuse?

JP: "Blonde" versus "blond" is my kryptonite. I can never get it right, no matter how many times I use it.

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

JP: Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to add new words to the dictionary, but that’s mainly because I would add words like squee.

Squee /skwee/

Potential definition: A high-pitched squeak indicating excitement or joyful anticipation, often accompanied by hand clapping or jumping.

Used in a sentence: She would squee with delight at the sight of puppies.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

JP: I think, in general, I just hate being aware of bad grammar usage. For example, seeing someone on social media use a word incorrectly over and over. I’m absolutely not the type of person who is going to correct someone or grammar-shame them, but it will haunt my thoughts all day! If FB had a warning on posts that said, "Hey, this post misuses 'there'/'they’re'/'their.' Are you sure you want to view it?" that would save me from a lot of stress.

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

JP: I tend to favor my characters using proper grammar—for the most part—and lean more on word choices and sentence structure to differentiate between characters, and especially between narrators, since I write dual POV.

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

JP: As an author, this may be a strange thing to say, but I tend to collect lyrics more than literary quotes. I think because I’m the type of reader left with an overwhelming feeling after reading a book. I probably won’t be able to recite any portion of it, but I can tell you exactly how it made me feel. Maybe that’s just the romance novel lover in me. One of my favorite lyrics, and one that has been hugely helpful to me in my journey as a writer and an author, is from "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" by The Avett Brothers: 

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in
And demanded that somebody free it

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

JP: Thanks to Covid-19 and these strange times we’re living in, my son is home all day with me, which means I’m missing out on my usual three-hour block of writing time. I have just enough time to answer emails, so my biggest struggle this week has been my usual email struggle, which is trying to remove the exclamation points I add to every single sentence. I’m not sure why I’m so excited in emails, but if I can cut exclamations down to fifty-percent, I feel pretty accomplished!