Thursday, September 17, 2009
Yukky Works That Aren't Wrong and Fun Words That Aren't Right
My idol or grammar and style June Casagrande is at it again. In her syndicated column "A Word Please," she puts people on notice that she thinks a word like "incentivized" is pretty yukky, but goes on to say that it is still a word. In fact, two of the three dictionaries she checked listed it as a word. She points out that similar words like "prioritize" were once considered yukky, too. Who knew?
Often our attitudes about words are a matter of taste. I don't like words like "signage" or "usage" much either. Generally the words without the "age" prefixes would do just well without them as with them. That makes them feel sort of wordy or redundant or...mmmm...officious...to me. But that's my taste. That doesn't make them right or wrong.
Our language changes. And we're the ones who make it change. Further, as a poet, I value that we can make up our own words. Oh, OK. Sometimes as a nonfiction writer I value it, too.
I like the word "snoof" and it certainly isn't in my dictionary. You can probably guess what it means, even out of context. In my poems, I often push words together to make one--a la the age-old habit of the German language. I love the word "fingerhut" in German, as an example. It means "thimble" but literally, it means "finger hat."
Heck, I reason, English is a Germanic language so just tell me I can't do it.
Having said that, many will note that this message is quite different from the one I send in The Frugal Editor. There I go for zero tolerance. That's because, when writers are trying to ply their trade, shop their books and other work, risking the ire of someone who finds "incentivized" annoying can make a difference between being published or not.
When in doubt, best to play it safe.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0978515870. Learn more about her other authors' aids at www.howtodoitfrugally.com, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.