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Grammar Quirks: K Arsenault Rivera on Words About Love

K Arsenault Rivera, author of "The Phoenix Empress," talks about her love for the word "languor" and the need for more words about, well, love. 
 

By
Mignon Fogarty,
The Phoenix Empress

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

K Arsenault Rivera: "Languid!" "Languor," if I’m being pedantic. One of the most influential books on a young K was LeFanu’s "Carmilla," in which the words "languid" and "languor" occur quite a bit. It’s one of those lovely words that sounds like what it is—just a lazy roll of the tongue. For a while there I was considering getting it tattooed!

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

KAR: I hate the word "lover." Part of that comes from the phrase "lesbian lover" being so popular, and that’s always fallen harshly on my ears—why not say partner, or girlfriend, or wife? There are so many gayer, better words.

And it sounds awful.

GG: What word will you always misspell?

KAR: The day that I spell "separate" correctly on the first try will be the day my English teachers and editor hang up their red pens.

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

KAR: This is a bit of an interesting question, isn’t it? There are so many words in other languages that we don’t have in English. I’d love for there to be more words about love: more words for the inevitable, agonizing anticipation of sharing your feelings with someone, or the quiet warmth that comes several years later when your lives are comfortably joined.

GG: Any grammar pet peeves we should know about?

KAR: I know they’re both technically correct, but it’s all right, not alright. It looks better that way!

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

KAR: Grammar’s super important! With "Tiger" and "Phoenix," I have a character who’s very taciturn. Shefali only speaks in four word sentences, except when speaking to her wife or her cousin. Being able to concisely convey her thoughts and emotions is important—and maintaining her voice even more so. I end up spending a lot of time on her dialogue just to get that perfect blend of stern and big ol’ doofus!

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

KAR: I’m gonna be really basic and go with the last paragraph of Joyce’s “The Dead”:

"Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

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

KAR: I can never remember the difference between further and farther. Figurative further, physical farther!

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