I have this love affair with words. I can do what I like with them (mis-spell, mis-use, incorrectly hyphenate…) and they seldom object. (And when they do it is generally through this whatever-it-is that is embedded in Microsoft Word with the specific purpose of driving me half crazy: I know it’s a f*cking fragment, it’s how I write and no, I wouldn’t consider changing it!) I’m actually pretty nailed on with spelling (although restaurant is, for some reason, always problematic for me) and my apostrophe use is definitely superior to whomsoever (whosoever, apparently) wrote the algorithm for Microsoft. I love a bit of anthimeria – which the algorithm obviously believes is a word I have just invented – or possibly anthimeriaing. Shakespeare, apparently, was a great verber, and if he never considered using Gerund as a character name, well, he dashed well should have (or, as everybody says around here, ‘should of’). I will freely admit, I do like making up the odd word here and there: if it suits what I have to say, and it says it, then I use it. If it doesn’t appear in the dictionary, well, perhaps it’s not just me who needs to get his act together. I am not alone. Lewis Carroll, for instance, was a great maker-upper of words – although, strangely, I have just looked up paedophile and it wasn’t one of his.
Grammar, unfortunately, is an entirely different kettle of frogs. My use of grammar could best be described as ‘instinctive’ (as was the reaction of many of my English Tutors over the years): I tend to read things out aloud and if I pause, I stick a comma in. If I stop, I stick in a full stop. If I pause, just a little longer than a comma’s-worth, but don’t quite stop, then it is a semi-colon. A colon, in my head, is simply an abbreviation for ‘such as’ or ‘such that’. And parentheses (surely not parenthesises) I just drop in wherever I might have an extra idea to plop into a sentence, which is not catered for within my aforementioned basic grammatical rulebook. I understand ‘verb’, ‘adverb’, ‘noun’, ‘pronoun’, ‘adjective’ and a little bit about ‘prepositions’, unlike ‘conjunctions’, and interjections which are well hard! Beyond that, anything that requires more than a single word descriptor completely passes me by. I don’t remember ever being taught these things. I suppose I must have been, although I am certain that I have never known them. Appositive phrases are completely out of reach to me.
I had an English teacher at school who dedicated his entire life (or so it seemed to me at the time – I’m sure he must have done other things) to chopping my long and florid sentences down into tiny, grammatically correct chunks with his own, equally florid, green ink revisions (although I still think that Word would call the resulting pithy blocks ‘fragments’) and all of my all-of-a-suddens into suddenlys (neither of which, apparently, can be pluralised). His accuracy with the blackboard rubber is the main reason that I still, to this day, duck instinctively every time I am tempted to make a smartarse remark. Consequently, my writing tends to veer wildly between the clipped and economical style that he tried to pound into my head and the convoluted mess that is more true to my nature and bloody-mindedness. What’s the point in a sentence that you can read without having to think about it? To get through many of mine, you might need a map. If you reach the end of a sentence I have written with no idea of what I was trying to say at the start of it, it is probably because I have forgotten.
Also, for reasons that only a psychologist could explain, I do not like words such as learnt and dreamt, using learned and dreamed instead, both of which, I realise, are quite wrong, but sound much less ugly. You may have noticed, I also use the ‘ise’ suffix in preference to the ‘ize’ espoused by the OED, apparently putting me at odds with Shakespeare and Tolkien, which I am sure will really bother them. In ‘real life’, I am an inveterate and accomplished swearer, but I seldom swear in print because it looks so bloody unsightly. I wrote a novel once in which every character was deeply flawed and ultimately unpleasant. The worst of them swore as much on the page as I do in real life. He was an ugly person and his dialogue disfigured the text to such an extent that I had to find something really unpleasant to do to him. Oddly, I read it through a week or two ago and, with an appropriate distance between then and now, it actually made me laugh. I believe that I have read many worse novels – although I could, as always, be very wrong about this – and I wish that I had pursued my search for a publisher rather more assiduously than I did, but I didn’t. Even today I wish that I had the patience to pursue it, but I don’t (I am allergic to rejection: it brings me out in self-pity and I can’t afford the whisky). I do wonder if my tortuous syntax might not be an impediment to literary success. I’m not sure that this can be the whole reason for my stratospheric level of failure, as I have read many a best seller that has, in my opinion, needed some kind of preface from Bletchley Park in order to make it coherent and, unless I am particularly stupid*, there are many ‘great books’ out there that would have not made it beyond my own ‘could I read this in a deckchair’ test. I am unable to tackle a single sentence in Ulysses without a pencil and notepad.
Anyway, I appear to have drifted somewhat from my charted journey here; the point is – or was, it seems so long since I started this – that I love words (even if my method of linking them together leaves much to be desired) and I love using them (my latest dreadful habit: using italics for expression) and that is the main reason why I continue to write this blog after all this time. I hope you understand and can forgive…
*Author’s Note: I am particularly stupid.