When it comes to writing, the topic is everything. I’d rather read a poorly-written piece about an interesting topic than a well-crafted selection about something boring. I’m pretty sure most readers agree with me. I don’t have any statistics to back me up on this, but if I repeat myself loudly enough (“Most readers agree with me!!”), my assertions will eventually become accepted as truth (except I have a quiet voice so nobody will hear me).
If an author delves into a bad topic, the author can phrase things carefully and revise heavily before publishing. But when an author talks about a bad topic, he can get into trouble just like anybody else.
Last week, famous author John Grisham got into trouble for talking about child pornography in an interview. Child pornography is probably the worst topic ever to bring up. I don’t know if John Grisham brought up the ch*ld p#rn#graphy himself or was asked about it, and I’m not going to read the interview to find out because that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not going to try to figure out if John Grisham actually had a point about men “accidentally” stumbling onto ch*ld p#rn sites because it … it… it…
All I know is that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic. It’s so bad that I want to repeat that I’m not talking about ch*ld p#rn#graphy; I’m talking about bad topics. I don’t want readers to accuse me of hypocrisy for stating that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic but still writing about ch*ld p#rn#graphy. I’m not. I’m writing about bad topics. If I become a famous writer and somebody asks me about ch*ld p#rn#graphy, I will say, “I’m not talking/writing about that. It’s a bad topic.”
This is such a bad topic that I don’t even want to write the words. So from now on, I’ll refer to ch*ld p#rn#graphy as THAT topic.
THAT topic is so bad that I don’t want people searching for THAT topic to accidentally find my blog. THAT topic is so bad that even publicists who believe all publicity is good publicity will think that THAT topic is bad publicity.
THAT topic is so bad that even John Grisham would never write a thriller about it. I’m pretty sure a novel about a guy who accidentally stumbles on a child porn site and then gets put in prison for it would never become a best-seller. Maybe if the guy was getting framed, like he wasn’t really watching THAT kind of site, but still… I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems like a bad idea for a book. It’s such a bad idea that even I wouldn’t try to write it, and I’m a big believer in bad ideas.
When Orson Scott Card wrote about politics, a bunch of people who disagreed with his views vowed to never buy any more of his books. When Stephen King wrote about gun control, a bunch of people who disagreed with him vowed to never buy any more of his books. I don’t boycott authors I disagree with. I figure I’m going to disagree with everybody about something sometime and I can’t boycott everybody. Also, I enjoy reading/hearing opinions I disagree with, as long as it’s not obnoxious or insulting. I can disagree with an author or celebrity about most topics.
But THAT topic? When an author chooses THAT topic to talk about in an interview, it at least makes me wonder. I can’t boycott John Grisham, not because I completely oppose boycotting, but because I intentionally stopped reading his books about 15 years ago (maybe more). After a few novels in the 1990s, his books all seemed the same to me. That, to me, is a great reason to stop reading an author’s books.
There are a lot of bad topics to talk/write about to people you don’t know: abortion, race relations, religion. The whole reason we have changes in the weather is so that we have something to talk about to strangers. Weather is the universal conversation topic. Football SHOULD be the universal conversation topic, but some people don’t like football, so the universal conversation topic has to be weather.
I’d like it if the universal conversation topic was books, but some people don’t like to read. Plus, some irresponsible authors bring up bad conversation topics like ch*ld p#rn#graphy. Thanks, John Grisham; because of you, we have to talk about the weather.
What do you think? Are there any topics worse for a celebrity to talk about than THAT topic? Should John Grisham books be boycotted because of THAT topic? What other topics are you willing to boycott an author over? If weather changes didn’t exist, what would be the universal conversation topic?
When I was in college (decades ago), one of my classes did an activity where we students wrote whatever we wanted, and then did a word count, syllable count, (and a bunch of other counts), and finally determined the sophistication level of our writing. At the time, I was proud because I was rated as the highest-level writer in my class. Looking back, I laugh because I was probably just being a pretentious bastard whenever I wrote.
Now there’s a reading comprehension algorithm that grades presidential speeches by doing (kind of) the same thing. It’s a bit controversial because President Obama’s speeches have been rated as only “slightly more sophisticated” than President George Bush’s. President Obama is supposed to be a lot smarter and sophisticated than President Bush (at least a lot of Obama supporters made this claim), so it has to hurt that his speeches are comparable to Bush’s.
It’s almost not fair to judge a president by his speeches because they use speech writers now. However, presidents also write memoirs, sometimes even before becoming president. A few years ago when Decision Points by former President George Bush came out, I read it just to see what his writing style was like. At the time, critics were also suggesting that President Obama (before he became president) hadn’t really written Dreams from my Father. I compared the two memoirs to see if either or both presidents wrote their own stuff. See what you think.
First is a short excerpt from Decision Points by George Bush, from the first page of Chapter 1:
“I have a habitual personality. I smoked cigarettes for about nine years, starting in college. I quit smoking by dipping snuff. I quit that by chewing long-leaf tobacco. Eventually I got down to cigars.”
That’s not very sophisticated. It probably wouldn’t be rated very high on a reading comprehension algorithm. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that President Bush is the true author of Decision Points.
Next is a short excerpt from Dreams from My Father, from the first page of Chapter 1:
“I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed, shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan. It was an uninviting block, treeless and barren, lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day. The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.”
That’s a nice paragraph. I’m pretty sure President Obama’s excerpt would rate higher on the algorithm. But… did President Obama really write the excerpt?
Despite my tendency to ignore most (but not all) criticisms of the president, this excerpt didn’t sound like the President Obama that I hear (or try to avoid hearing). The language in the excerpt is more flowery than the expressions he uses when he speaks extemporaneously. Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama DID have a ghostwriter for his memoir, just as his critics have asserted. Perhaps the anti-Obama conspiracy theorists were on to something!
Finally, I realized what the problem was. The editors probably made a slight change to Obama’s original text that completely altered his voice. Here is what the excerpt might have looked like before the editors changed it:
“Uh, let me be clear. I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed… uuuuh… shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan. Let me be frank… it was an uninviting block, treeless and barren… uuuh… lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day. The apartment was small… uuuh… with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work… uuuh… so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where… let me be clear… a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around.. uh… an empty beer bottle.”
Okay, now that sounds like the President Obama I try to tune out every day. Sorry, conspiracy theorists, but I believe President Obama actually wrote his own memoir.
I’d like to see this reading comprehension algorithm used on real authors instead of presidential speech writers. How does a best-seller compare to a novel that wins a Pulitzer Prize? How does Moby Dick (ha ha!) compare to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? How does A Time To Kill compare to To Kill A Mockingbird? How does a novel written by James Patterson compare to a novel written by one of James Patterson’s co-authors? How do James Patterson’s co-authors compare with each other?
To me, that would be a lot more interesting and fun than comparing presidential memoirs. And comparing presidential memoirs was a blast!
What do you think? Does this reading comprehension algorithm really mean anything? What novels or authors would you like to see compared? Do you believe any politicians have written their own memoirs? Do you think writing is fun? If it’s fun, can other people tell that you’re having fun when you write?
It’s tough to write a review of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story that’s shorter than six words. I think I’ve already failed, so I won’t even try. It’s also hard to review a six-word story without SPOILERS, but I can make an honest attempt.
Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a six-word story on a napkin. The story (along with background information) is here. I would post the story, but I’m on a strict word count, and I like to review literature without any leaving spoilers. I hate reading reviews that give everything away, so if you want to read Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story, go ahead. But I don’t want to spoil it.
Even if the six-word story was written by Ernest Hemingway, it leaves plenty of unanswered questions, too many for my liking. What happened to the baby? What about the parents? Did anybody buy the shoes? How much did they sell for? I know that Hemingway has to leave some facts out of the story, but the reader ends up knowing nothing about the main characters.
There wasn’t any dialogue, and I love stories with great dialogue. Characterization was a little threadbare. I was surprised at the lack of details. There wasn’t even a title. Maybe I was expecting too much. Sometimes I get too critical of classic literature.
I guess my only legitimate complaint about the six-word story was that the Amazon Kindle edition cost me 99 cents. I thought the Kindle edition of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story would include other Hemingway selections. Who would sell a six-word short story for 99 cents? Even worse, who would buy a six-word short story for 99 cents?
I should have known I was buying a six-word short story when I downloaded a free sample of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story on my Kindle, and all it said was “For.” I guess I have nobody to blame but myself.
For 99 cents, I should have received more than a digital six-word story. I should have gotten at least a napkin with Ernest Hemingway’s signature. It wouldn’t have to have been a real signature either. I would have been happy with a forged signature of Ernest Hemingway’s initials. It could have been stamped for all I care. I just wanted something to show for my 99 cents.
I have to give Ernest Hemingway credit. It’s not easy to write a six-word story. Here’s the best that I could do.
Wrote tweet. Nobody laughed. Got fired.
It’s not autobiographical, but it’s based on some fears that I have. At least I didn’t charge 99 cents for it.
What do you think? Have you ever written a six-word story? Have you ever read a six-word story that DIDN’T leave you feeling dissatisfied? Have you ever purchased a book (or six-word story) and felt ripped off? Do you even believe the legend of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story?
My youngest daughter thought of a word that rhymes with “orange.” This is a big deal because I’ve always heard that nothing rhymes with “orange.” During my daughter’s English class this week, when some student asked what could rhyme with orange, the teacher answered with nothing, and my daughter blurted out:
I don’t know how she thought of it. She’s not even sure. Maybe she was staring at a door hinge, but I doubt a door hinge would catch her attention, unless it was a glittery, sparkly door hinge with lots of unicorns on/around it. Maybe my daughter read or heard that “door hinge” rhymes with “orange,” but I’ve never heard that before, so maybe she thought of it herself.
When my daughter said “door hinge” out loud to the class, her English teacher (according to my daughter) took a moment to think and then said, “No, not quite. But that’s a very good try.”
Good try? I hope that I don’t sound like a whiner, but my daughter didn’t just give it a good try; she nailed it. She solved the phonological puzzle that has baffled poets for generations. I’m not going to email my daughter’s English teacher and demand an explanation (I don’t want to become that kind of parent), but how does “door hinge” NOT rhyme with “orange”?
Okay, “door hinge” is two words, but two words are allowed to rhyme with one word. That has been established in poetry and song lyrics for generations.
Maybe the “H” sound in “hinge” messes up the perfect rhyme, but rhymes don’t have to be perfect to rhyme, especially when the rhymes involve more than one syllable.
To prove that “door hinge” rhymes with “orange,” all we need to do is compare my daughter’s rhyme with a rhyme that is already universally accepted. As evidence, I provide a stanza from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
If “ages hence” rhymes with “difference,” then “door hinge” rhymes with “orange.” We know “ages hence” rhymes with “difference” because this is from a Robert Frost poem that rhymes, and nobody argues with Robert Frost poetry. At least if there’s arguing, it’s not about whether “ages hence” rhymes with “difference.” It just does, and everybody accepts that.
If you go by the last syllable, “hence” matches “-rence.” That’s all you need for a rhyme. Using the same logic, “hinge” rhymes with “-ringe” (as pronounced in “orange). If anything, “door hinge” rhymes with “orange” far better than “ages hence” rhymes with “difference” because of the “r” sound in “door.”
Extending this logic even further, my daughter rhymes better than Robert Frost, and her English teacher cannot see it.
I don’t blame the English teacher. She’s been taught all her life that nothing rhymes with “orange.” It’s part of her worldview that nothing rhymes with “orange.” Once your worldview is set, nothing is going to change your mind, especially an 11 year-old girl.
I have to give my daughter’s English teacher some credit for not telling my daughter to “SHUT UP!!” for disagreeing with her. When I was in junior high, I had an English teacher who told us to “SHUT UP!!” whenever we disagreed with him. Sometimes we disagreed with him just to hear him say “SHUT UP!!” It was funny. We didn’t laugh in a disrespectful way. We quietly looked down and chuckled so that he wouldn’t see us, except maybe for our shoulders shaking. Nobody in junior high cared enough about literature (especially poetry) to disagree with a teacher about anything, but hearing him say “SHUT UP!!” was worth getting yelled at a little bit. At least my daughter’s English teacher handled their disagreement with respect.
I am proud of my daughter. She didn’t simply accept that there was no word that rhymes with orange. She tried to think of one herself, despite the odds against her. And, though biased I may be, I think she succeeded.
What do you think? Does “door hinge” rhyme with “orange”? Is it a near rhyme? Is “door hinge/orange” a better rhyme than “ages hence/difference”? Was it disrespectful to disagree with our English teacher just to hear him say “SHUT UP!!”? Should teachers ever yell “SHUT UP!!” at their students? What other words are difficult to rhyme?
Being a successful author is much better than being a famous athlete/actor/singer. A famous author can go into a restaurant without being assaulted by photographers. In fact, a successful author can go almost anywhere and not be recognized. I once accidentally met a famous writer at a book signing and I didn’t even recognize him until I saw the stack of books next to his table. I thought, “Oh, THAT’S what he looks like.”
Just so you know, I don’t consider myself a successful author. I’m merely a struggling writer trying to get noticed. But even though I’m a struggling author (with a decent job that has nothing to do with writing), I have an imagination, so I can visualize what it’s like to be a successful author. In the meantime, though, I have to remain anonymous.
Writers who have day jobs probably should stay anonymous until they become rich (or financially independent). If I ever get to the point when I can write something really offensive without worrying about getting fired, that’s when I’ll think of myself as a successful author. I don’t want to get fired from my job just because I write something offensive on my blog. My wife doesn’t mind my blog and my Twitter and my ebooks, and she doesn’t mind me writing a serial romantic comedy about an ex-girlfriend, but she would mind if my writing got me fired. She’d be pissed.
I’ve already written a few things that could get me fired. For example, my boss (at my job that has nothing to do with writing) claims he knew the actor James Franco when he was in college. My boss is one of those young Ivy League guys who got hired right out of college, and he acts as if he and James Franco were best friends. When a co-worker told my boss that James Franco sucks, my boss fired him. My boss never admitted that he fired my co-worker because of his anti-Franco comment. Instead, my boss suddenly found lots to criticize my co-worker about after he made his anti-Franco remarks. We can’t prove my boss fired him because of James Franco, but everybody knows it’s true.
Since I’ve criticized James Franco and his books (Palo Alto and Actors Anonymous) on this blog, I could get fired if my boss found out that I write Dysfunctional Literacy. I’m pretty good at my job, but I’m not perfect, and if my boss wanted to, he could find something to fire me for. As far as I’m concerned when I’m at work, James Franco was the best Oscars host ever!!!!! And Actors Anonymous was the best book ever!!!!
It’s not just my critical views of James Franco’s books that could get me fired. I’ve also written some stupid jokes that could probably get me fired. Lots of people seem to get fired for tweeting bad jokes or offensive comments, and I’ve published my share. I’ve written some bad jokes on this blog, but I’ve never tweeted them. All of my bad jokes are too long to tweet. Some of them are tasteless and offensive, but at least I take my time to get the punch line. Even if the punch line sucks, I’ve always taken my time.
I’ve written porn jokes, offensive jokes, and tasteless jokes. I’ve even written a couple funny jokes (I called them funny jokes, but I could be wrong). But I wrote most of them when hardly anybody read Dysfunctional Literacy. Maybe if I tweeted them, I’d get fired from my own blog (which also worries me), so I won’t do that. I’ll just leave them up as a reminder of what NOT to do when you start a blog.
Here’s another situation that concerns me. A teacher using a pen name wrote a futuristic book about a school shooting, and now he’s being monitored by authorities and might lose his teaching job. To me, this teacher did everything correctly. He used a pseudonym and set the book in a futuristic setting so that none of his writing could be associated with his employer. Thankfully, I’m not a teacher. I thought about it when I was in college, but I don’t like talking to people, and teachers have to talk… to kids… and that’s worse than talking to people. I probably would not be a good fit for teaching. With my kind of writing, I probably would get myself fired.
According to an update in the article, there is more than just the teacher’s ebooks involved, but some of that is unclear. I’m not sure if the article is unclear or if I’m a bad reader. To me, using fiction to determine a person’s mental state is questionable, but I’m no expert. Either way, I hope everything works out for this teacher, unless he’s really a jerk, and I hope he doesn’t hurt anybody, including himself .
I wouldn’t want anybody to evaluate my psychological state or emotional well-being just from my writing. I like being able to write what I want without co-workers or friends (or government officials) giving me weird looks when they see me and think I can’t see them. If friends and acquaintances knew that I had a blog, I never would have written porn jokes and I’d have changed several sections of “The Literary Girlfriend,” and if they find out about Dysfunctional Literacy, I might decide to delete a bunch of stuff. I really don’t want to have to explain what I write, unless I’m getting paid for it.
But most importantly, I don’t want to get fired.
What do you think? Should people get fired for what they write? Should I (or my co-worker) get fired for saying something bad about James Franco? Should a teacher get in trouble for writing ebooks under a pseudonym? Have you ever written anything that could (or did) get you fired? What are other advantages (and even disadvantages) to writing anonymously?
A lot of new things suck. Most new movies suck. Most new television shows suck. Even though I love to read, most new books suck (that’s only because James Patterson has his name on 90% of the new stuff out there, and almost ALL of his books suck). Maybe I’m getting too old and grouchy because yesterday I realized that most new words suck.
Originally, I was going to title this “New Words That Suck,” but by saying everything sucks, I would have put myself at risk of sounding negative. I don’t mean “sucks” in too negative a way. I just have high expectations for new things. If something already exists (like movies, television shows, and books) and you make a new one, the new one should be better than the old ones. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The same concept applies to new words. If Oxford and Merriam-Webster are going to legitimize new words by adding them to the dictionary, I have high expectations for those new words. A new word shouldn’t be a trivial combination of sounds. My expectations of new words shouldn’t be higher than a dictionary’s. It’s not because I’m a literary prude. I can’t be a literary prude. I write porn jokes. I read comic books. I laugh at the title Moby Dick. I’m not the problem. The problem is that the new words suck.
I was okay with new words until I read this, an article about literary snobbery that is centered around the fake word “poptimist.” You don’t have to read the article. I just want you to have this reference in case you ever need proof that somebody tried to create the word “poptimism.” I was going to read the article until I saw the word “poptimism.” The whole point of “poptimism” was that… aw, it doesn’t matter. I cringed when I read “poptimism.” But that was only the beginning.
Next, I saw a commercial for a product that doesn’t need advertising where a famous actress/writer uses the made-up word “hangry.” I think it’s a combination of “hungry” and “angry” because people get angry when they’re hungry (or vice-versa). I also think it’s trying too hard. I hope “hangry” never makes the dictionary. Bad behavior like inventing a fake word “hangry” shouldn’t be rewarded with attention from Oxford and Merriam-Webster. If I ever said the word “hangry,” I’d get punched out (and I would know that I deserved it). There are some things a man should never say. A man should never say “Shame on you!” and a man should never say words like “poptimism” or “hangry.”
Words like “poptimism” and “hangry” aren’t real words. They’re “clevwords.” They’re words whose inventors are trying too hard to be too clever. “Clevword” is a combination of “clever” and “word.” The problem with “clevword” is that I would probably have to explain what “clevword” means, and a good “clevword” shouldn’t need an explanation, except there’s no such thing as a good clevword. Every clevword sucks. No clevword should ever make the dictionary.
Now that I think about it, even some new words that aren’t clevwords really suck.
“Hashtag” sucks. Hashtags have a purpose, but the word itself sucks. I’ve used hashtags, and I’ve written the word “hashtag,” but I’ve never said the word “hashtag.” When I was asked what a hashtag was (I hang out with some people like that), I referred to a hashtag as “it” and “they/them.” That’s why I love pronouns. Pronouns help me to avoid the words I don’t like to say.
“Selfie” sucks, but a selfie also serves a purpose, and I’ve finally discovered my one good angle, so I don’t want the concept to go away; I just want the word replaced. Again, no man over the age of 30(?) should say “selfie.” I’ve said “selfie,” but at least I cringed during and after. From now on, I shall say “self-portrait!” in a deep, masculine voice.
“Tweep” sucks, and not because it’s a clevword. It shouldn’t even be considered a real word because you have to use Twitter to be or have a tweep. Brand names aren’t real words, so words directly related to brand names shouldn’t be either. Without Twitter,” there is no “tweep.” Without “peeps,” there is no “tweep.” If “Twitter” and “peeps” aren’t real words, then either should “tweep.” If Twitter ever disappears (and it might), then the word “tweep” wouldn’t even make sense anymore, so it can’t logically be a real word.
Not all new words suck. “Fracking” is a cool word. Even if you don’t like what it means, it’s a cool word. If I had said “frack” as a kid, my mom would have washed my mouth out with soap. Since I’m older now, I can say “frack” all day long, and I might, just because I can. Even if “fracking” doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means, it’s still fun to say.
“Photo bomb” is also a cool word (or phrase), but it has “bomb” in it, and that might be an unfair advantage over other words. Any word sounds cool when it has “bomb” in it. “Photo bomb” is NOT a clevword because it doesn’t blend the two words, but even a clevword sounds good when it has “bomb” in it. “Bombtimistic” is way better than “poptimistic, and “bombgry” is way better than “hangry.”
I’m so hungry I could eat a bomb. That’s “bombgry.”
I’m so optimistic that even a bomb can’t ruin my mood. That’s “bombtimistic.”
Most new words, especially clevwords, are unnecessary. We don’t need them. English has enough problems without people trying to create new words. I don’t mind saying, “I’m hungry and mad.” I won’t get punched out for saying “I’m hungry and mad.” I’d get punched out for saying “I’m hangry.” Maybe that should be the dictionary’s criteria for accepting new words. A clevword can become a real word only if a man can say it without getting punched out. But it might be tough to find men to willingly test it.
What do you think? What other new words suck? What new words are great? What is better than “bomb” in a word? Are there any clevwords that don’t suck?
English can be a tough language to learn. There are a lot of rules, and when you accidentally break a few of them, there’s often some snarky grammarian who wants to rub your face in your mistake. It’s no wonder that people who move into English-speaking countries sometimes refuse to learn English. Who needs the hassle? I’m no expert, but I’ve heard that people who live in countries that don’t speak English don’t correct each other’s English mistakes. That’s just what I’ve heard.
A couple weeks ago, a formerly famous guitarist for a formerly famous rock band declared that immigrants to the United States should learn “Go&&amn English” . Some people were offended by what they thought were harsh words. Normally, I become annoyed when a famous actor or musician talks about politics or social issues. Their opinions aren’t any more important than mine, but they get a forum that I don’t get just because they’re famous. I’m just as capable of talking about stuff I know nothing about as any famous person. But “Godda#% English” makes sense. After all, standard English is very difficult to learn. But G*dd@mn English? Anbody can learn that.
At first, I wasn’t wild about the term “Go##amn English.” I like standard English because I believe in rules. Rules are what make people civilized. But standard English has a lot of rules, and I don’t want to think about rules every time I speak. I also remembered that Latin had Vulgar Latin, which the common people spoke. If a classic language like Latin can have a Vulgar Latin, then a current language like English can have Go&&amn English.
Honestly, Vulgar Latin was a disappointment. I thought Vulgar Latin would be fun to learn because it’s always fun to learn vulgarities in various languages. Vulgar Latin should have been fun to learn. I had visions of saying stuff like “Screwiticus youticus, you piecuvus crapicus.” But then I was told by some snooty Latin grammarian that adding “iticus” to English words does not make them Latin. You don’t even add the “iticus” to Latin words to make them Vulgar Latin. In other words, I had to learn some actual Latin to learn Vulgar Latin. That ruined Vulgar Latin for me, but it doesn’t ruin G#dd@mn English for me because I already know English.
Maybe I should have a problem with the word “go##@mn.” I was taught decades ago that it was the worst of all profanity, worse even than the “F-word” that rhymes with “duck.” According to my parents, to “damn” something was pretty bad (but not bad enough to censor it in writing), and then to add “God” as a prefix doubles the damn, triples the damn, quadruples the damn, maybe even infinitizes the damn. At any rate, it makes the damn pretty bad.
I’m not even sure how to write “g*dd*mn” without offending readers. I don’t care that much if I offend people I don’t know, but I don’t go out of my way to do it. I’m not trying to shock the world by using the term “G^**amn English.” Maybe the formerly famous rock musician was trying to shock people. I’ve heard that rock musicians like to shock people sometimes. Some even cake their faces in weird makeup to shock people. If a guy would wear makeup to shock people, he’d probably say “G*##@mn” to shock people too. I’ve never worn makeup, but I’ve said “####amn” before, and I think saying “%o##amn” is worse than wearing makeup, so I’m not trying to pretend to be a saint. I’m not. I just don’t get kicks out of shocking people.
The problem with the term “G*##amn English” is that I don’t know where to put my censorship symbols. None of them look right. I can’t just come out and spell “Godd@mn” because I’m not that kind of blogger. I mean, I don’t mind if you’re reading the word “G^dd@mn English” in your head, but I don’t want you to see “#####amn English” on the page. Maybe I’m a hypocrite for even trying to censor myself.
Despite its name, nobody should correct you when you speak Godda#% English. Nobody gives a flip if you make a mistake. No snooty grammarian will chime in about subject-verb agreement or ending a sentence with a preposition. If anybody corrects you, you just give them the middle finger. Everybody understands the middle finger. Even people who can’t speak Go%%amn English understand the middle finger
If you’re speaking G*%%amn English and ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” nobody is going to respond with: “I don’t know. CAN you?”
If you’re speaking Godd*** English and say, “I got your text,” nobody will correct you with: “You RECEIVED my text.”
If you’re speaking G#dd@mn English and say, “I’m gonna take a selfie,” nobody will correct you with: “You’re GOING TO take a selfie.”
As long as people understand you, that’s all that matters.
The only real problem with Go##*mn English is that it cannot be spoken everywhere. Speaking it at church or the classroom or in any formal setting isn’t appropriate. But for people who need basic communication skills, Go##@mn English is great. It’s not just great, it’s darn great. It’s really darn great.
Every year dictionaries add words to their lexicon. It probably annoys that powers that be who determine language to add common stuff like “street food” and “double denim” to their dictionaries. Maybe in a few years, “G#dd@mn English” will be a universally accepted compound word. At least then I’d feel okay spelling the whole thing out.
What do you think? Is Go%%amn English something that anybody can learn? Should dictionaries include it in their next volumes? Do I need to censor myself when I write it? Should the opinions of formerly famous musicians who caked their faces with makeup get any attention?
Reading at a funeral is a bad idea. I usually don’t like reading in public anyway (usually for safety reasons), but a funeral is an especially bad place to read. In my defense, I was reading a good book (it had been a while since I’d read a book I was excited about), and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I don’t want to mention the title of this book because a lot of people hate this book and would think I was a horrible human being for wanting to read it at a funeral. I had it on my phone, so nobody would have known I was reading a book instead of checking messages, but I still would have looked like a phone tool at a funeral, and I didn’t want that either.
This doesn’t make me look good. I think I have some explaining to do.
A co-worker of mine died last week. I’m not going to mention the co-worker’s name because I don’t mention the real names of people I know. I was at his funeral, the service was over, and everybody had lined up in the center aisle of the church to exit, but first we had to pass the co-worker’s wife and kids. The line was moving slowly, and I don’t talk to people in lines unless I know them well. A bunch of people from work were there, but I had talked to them before the service, so I had already used up all the appropriate funeral topics (weather and what a great guy the co-worker was). I had nothing left.
Sine the line was slow, I was going to read a little bit on my phone when I realized that everybody in line was stopping to talk to our deceased co-worker’s wife. Nobody slipped past the side to avoid her. If I did that, I’d be the only one, and I would have looked like the supreme tool. Everybody would have remembered me as the guy who slipped away from the co-worker’s grieving wife. I was going to have to say something to her. I’d never met her. I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know what to say to her.
Despite being a writer, I’m not always good with words. It takes a long time for me to think of the right things to say (or write). I put the phone away and began thinking furiously.
Last summer I got into a minor argument with this co-worker. There was a week when one famous actor, one famous singer, and one famous author (Tom Clancy) all died within a couple days. Since celebrity deaths seem to happen in threes, I tried to make the case to others in the office that Tom Clancy was just as famous as the famous singer and famous actor who had died. I don’t remember who the actor and singer were. That’s the kind of guy I am. I remember the author’s name, and that’s it.
“Writers don’t count,” my co-worker (the one who died last week) proclaimed.
“But this author wrote a bunch of books,” I said, and listed several titles that had been turned into popular movies.
“I don’t know what he looks like,” my co-worker said. “You’re not a celebrity if nobody knows what you look like.”
I knew what this author looked like because he put the same picture on the back of his books for 20 years. Then again, his features might have changed after 20 years, so maybe I really didn’t know what he looked like. But I thought that was a stupid criteria for a celebrity.
Despite that disagreement a year ago, I went to my co-worker’s funeral. I don’t hold grudges about little things like that. (Just so you know, it wasn’t a Tom Clancy book that I wanted to read at the funeral). As I stood in line, I still wasn’t sure what to say to the co-worker’s wife. “I’m sorry for your loss,” seemed overdone. “I’m sorry,” seemed too short. I cursed my slow wittedness in uncomfortable moments, but thankfully I had time to think about other experiences with her husband. I didn’t think the argument about the whether or not a dead author counted as a dead celebrity would be appropriate. Maybe there was something else I could tell her.
Over the last year, I did a lot of work for the deceased co-worker. He would show up to my office (it’s not really an office, but the layout is tough to explain and isn’t important) and declare that he didn’t know how to do something technical, and then once I started showing him the steps, he’d excuse himself and disappear for a few hours. I (or a couple other guys) would just finish whatever it was and move on. It was easier that way. Once when I was completing a project, the co-worker stepped in and said to me, “You know, when you’re on your death bed breathing through a tube, you’re not going to give a f*** about all this.”
I don’t remember if that’s exactly what he said, but I’m sure I got the profanity part right. I really didn’t want to mention this to his wife either.
Another time last summer when we’d been talking about death (I promise, we don’t sit around talking about death at work, though maybe some people there think about it a lot), the co-worker had said “I don’t care about dying. The world was just fine without me for a billion years.” I was tempted to say “4 billion years,” but I’ve been toning down that part of my personality.
Even though the funeral line was long and ponderous, I got to the front before I was emotionally ready. I didn’t have anything comforting or substantive to say to the co-worker’s wife, so I did the best I could.
“I’m Jimmy,” I stammered to the co-worker’s wife. “I worked with ______________ several times this year. He’s a great guy, and we’re going to miss him.” I think I said something like that. When I was talking to my co-worker’s wife, I wasn’t sure if I should refer to the co-worker in the present or past tense, so I went with present tense. Maybe I should have looked up the etiquette on my phone.
I could tell from the wife’s reaction that she had never heard of me. That’s okay. A lot of people where I work don’t know who I am, so I can’t expect a co-worker’s significant other to know. If I had died (and I hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this) and my co-worker had introduced himself to my wife, she wouldn’t have known who he was either, at least not by his name. If he had introduced himself to my wife as “the leach,” then she would have known.
I wonder if my co-worker knew or suspected what was about to happen to him. Maybe he asked me for help because he couldn’t concentrate on his work anymore and he didn’t want to admit it. Maybe he just didn’t care about work. Maybe shoving his stuff on other people was the easiest thing to do. Maybe being a leech was just the way he was. I’ll never know. I have a guess, but I’ll never know for sure. I thought about it a little bit in my car as I waited for the air conditioner to kick in. I ended up not reading my book at all until I returned home. Even then, I couldn’t concentrate on it for a while.
I don’t know. Is there a worse place to read a book than a funeral? Do famous writers count as celebrities? What topics are safe to talk about with strangers in a line?
I don’t enjoy book stores as much as I used to. It’s not necessarily the book stores’ fault. I don’t like to go to a lot of places that I used to enjoy, like movie theaters and restaurants. That’s a lot of places for everything to be somebody else’s fault. I don’t want to come across as somebody who thinks he’s perfect while everybody else is stupid. I’m aware of my own flaws.
Anyway, I had a few dollars left on my Brick&Mortar Booksellers gift card from Christmas, so my youngest daughter and I made a Saturday trip to BM Booksellers after a bunch of errands. When we walked in, my daughter noticed a lonely author having a book signing in the middle of the store. From what I learned later, she was a local author who had written a historical novel about our city, and maybe some friends of hers had bought her book, but nobody showed up for the book signing, at least not while we were there.
“Why don’t you buy her book?” my daughter said. She likes to help people in need.
I grabbed her hand and yanked her past the bestsellers section, out of the lonely author’s view. I told my daughter what I tell her in the mall whenever we pass the kiosks: “Don’t make eye contact.”
“Why don’t you talk to her?” my daughter asked. “You’re a writer too.”
“I write because I don’t like to talk,” I said. Talking to another writer defeats the purpose of being a writer. I imagined the two of us authors, staring at each other uncomfortably at the book signing table. Even though I write a lot, I have a tough time coming up with the right words right away in conversations. I need time. When I visit a sick friend or family member in the hospital, I have to bring somebody who can talk with me. Otherwise, I stare blankly and make the hospital situation even worse. Nobody wants to be visited by the uncomfortable silent guy. I didn’t want to make the book signing worse for the unknown author, and I didn’t want to be in an uncomfortable situation, especially when I hadn’t planned on it.
“If you buy her book, she might buy one of yours,” my daughter suggested.
“My ebooks are only 99 cents, so I’d lose out,” I said, figuring the lonely author’s book would be $10-15. It was purely a business decision.
We steered clear of the book signing and found the kids/YA section, and I set the timer on my phone for five minutes. This might sound inhumane, putting a kid on a time limit when finding a book, but it’s for their own good. My family used to dread going to the book store/library with me because I’d wander the aisles for an hour before finally choosing a book. At some point, we decided to put me on a five-minute timer. It worked so well that my daughters use it. They use it voluntarily. I was kind of forced.
My daughter needed only three minutes and found me at the bargain shelves. My daughter’s book had a bunch of princesses and goddesses and flowers on it, and it was in our price range, so I nodded at her. Good job. While we snuck past the book signing table toward the cashier, my daughter stopped at a James Patterson display, a table with stacks of James Patterson YA novels. Next to it was a life-sized cardboard figure of James Patterson looking somewhat constipated. My daughter picked up a James Patterson hardcover and inspected the cover.
“I want to buy this instead,” she said.
“You can’t,” I said automatically. “We don’t buy James Patterson books.”
“Because… because… he doesn’t write his own books.”
“He has somebody else write them and then he puts his name on the cover.” I showed her how the name “James Patterson” was prominent on the cover, but the letters for the co-author’s name (I don’t remember who it was) were much smaller.
“So? I like these books.”
“You’ve read them?” I was horrified. How could this have happened? I’ve monitored my daughters’ computer usage, protected them from the vilest of images on the internet, and now my youngest has admitted to reading a James Patterson book. I didn’t know what to say.
“You didn’t… buy them, did you?” I asked.
“My library has them.” Her school’s library. I’d have to talk to her school about buying James Patterson books, I thought. They shouldn’t reward an author’s bad behavior by purchasing his books, but I’d probably come across as a prick if I complained. Of all the things for a parent to complain about, they’d think.
“If your library has it, you can read it,” I decided. Since the book would have already been purchased, the harm would have already been done, so there was no point in NOT reading a book that had already been purchased. Still, I thought, James Patterson, what a scam!
The BM Bookseller registers had only one cashier working, and there was a line. I couldn’t understand a line at the bookstore. All the cashier had to do was look smug and scan. What could be taking so long? If a customer was writing a check or had a stack of books, I could understand, but it looked from where I was standing like everybody had simple one-book transactions. I’m a good eavesdropper, so I tuned in to the conversation between the cashier and customer.
The cashier was trying to sell the customer a BM Booksellers membership card. If the customer paid a small upfront annual fee, then he (or she) could get a 10-20% discount on all purchases. I’m not going to discuss whether or not that’s a good idea (maybe another time), but the cashier was being assertive to a reluctant customer. I huffed. This was a bookstore, not a car dealership. The lady in front of me rolled her eyes, but I wasn’t sure if it was at me for huffing or at the cashier for pitching a membership card when there was a line at the register.
“This never happens when I buy books on Amazon,” I said.
“Amazon’s the devil,” the lady said, and turned her back on me while clutching her $30.00 hardcover book. To be fair, when she turned her back, she was facing the registers like the rest of us, so I didn’t take it as an insult. Context is very important in these kinds of social encounters.
When I got to the register a few minutes later, the cashier didn’t ask me if I wanted a membership. I almost felt slighted.
What do you think? Should I have bought my daughter the James Patterson book? Was I wrong to avoid the lonely book signing? Is putting a kid on a timer bad parenting? Is Amazon the devil? Is the BM Booksellers membership card a good deal? Will BM Booksellers even exist in five years?
When a famous author writes a quote about writing, aspiring authors pay attention. After all, nobody knows more about writing than a famous author. Some quotes about writing have become so widely known that they’re almost accepted without second thought. But what if these famous quotes were meant to be misleading? What if the famous authors were just messing with us? What if famous authors were toying with our emotions and fragile egos? What if these famous authors were just… evil?
Below are five famous quotes about writing that MIGHT be evil:
QUOTE #1 “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”- Ernest Hemingway
WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL
Aspiring authors have enough problems, being rejected, being ignored, being over-criticized. We don’t need to hear about bleeding at a typewriter. I have never bled at the typewriter, and for my first ten years of writing, I actually used a typewriter. Unfortunately, I never learned keyboarding skills, so I was a two-fingered hunt-and-peck typist who used lots of White-out. If anybody should have bled out at the typewriter, it would have been me (or I). I did not bleed at the typewriter. Hemingway should not have left the impression that it’s normal to bleed at the typewriter. If you bleed while you’re writing, stop writing and maybe see a doctor.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”- Stephen King
WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL
I know Stephen King likes to scare readers with his horror novels, but this quote sounds like he’s trying to scare us aspiring writers with his advice. I love the moment just before I start. I’m optimistic when I start. The scary part is when I know I’m about to be critiqued. And even that’s not scary. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather have my writing get insulted than get ignored. If there’s a scary moment in writing, it’s when I see somebody’s facial expressions while he/she is reading what I wrote. With so much done online nowadays, I don’t see facial expressions anymore, so there is no scary part. Stephen King shouldn’t try to scare aspiring authors like that. He should have better things to do.
QUOTE #3 “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Mark Twain
WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL
If I had literally followed this advice in high school, I would have failed my English classes. I was tempted to follow this advice. After all, it was from Mark Twain. I came very/damn close to littering one of my stories with a bunch of damns and then defending it to my teacher by saying Mark Twain said it was okay. A couple friends (now that I think about it, I don’t believe they were really my “friends”) encouraged me to use a lot of damns. They thought it was a damn good idea. When I chose not to, they said I was damn cowardly. I said I was damn smart, and a teacher heard me. He told me to watch my language, then left to smoke a cigarette in the parking lot. I was damn lucky. The problem with exchanging “very” with “damn” is that if you do it too often, you talk like Holden Caulfield and it gets damn old damn quickly.
“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex.” – Anthony Burgess
WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL
I don’t know what Anthony Burgess looks/looked like, but I picture him as an old man. The last thing an old man needs to do is talk about sex, especially if he’s a writer. This quote makes writers look like a bunch of perverts. We’re no more perverted than the perverts who read our stuff, but still, Anthony Burgess should at least try to hide it and not push his pervertedness (also known as “perversion) on the rest of us.
Literature is about relationships. Sex is merely one part of a relationship. Maybe it gets discussed in a particular book, maybe it doesn’t. But other aspects of the relationship are important too, like… like… like…
“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs
WHY IT MIGHT BE EVIL
Putting potential readers through 100 bad stories just to get to one good one is… evil. Hey, I can talk. I read the first Pelucidar book. Edgar Rice Burroughs could write a lot of stuff, but it could also get old, unless you don’t get tired of the chase, captured, rescue, chase, capture, escape, chase, capture, rescue/escape formula. I know, I know, Edgar Rice Burroughs had bills to pay, and a lot of people out there were reading his books, but I think his quote encourages bad writing. It implies that if you simply write a lot, chances are SOMETHING is going to be good, almost by accident, almost by chance. Maybe that worked for Burroughs (some critics would say ALL of his stories were bad and his body of work is proof that his quote is wrong, but I wouldn’t go that far. He did create Tarzan, after all).
There are a lot of writing quotes by famous authors out there (and there might be one that says not to start a sentence with “there”). What other quotes about writing do you think are evil? Are famous authors evil for giving us evil quotes about writing? Or are these evil authors simply misguided and need a hug?