English, the ever-disintegrating language

Writing in English is difficult, because it's an ever-disintegrating language.

Jonathan Swift, writer and dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to the Earl of Oxford in 1712: “Our Language is extremely imperfect. Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” He went so far as to say, “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”

It was the lingual wild-west, untamed and out of control! So, in order to tame our wildly evolving language, a group of clerks and clerics in the eighteenth century who wanted a more orderly language developed the rules for the “Queen’s English.”

Unfortunately, they used the rules they were most familiar with, and being men of the church, they borrowed them from Latin.


Nevertheless, these rules have been consecrated, hallowed, and immortalized in hundreds of books on style, and repeated by guru after guru who ignores the scabrous history of our English language. These hard-and-fast rules have been passed down by generations of schoolteachers in a vain effort to keep the language pure, when everyone knows English was brought to Britain by the Saxons—those intrepid dark age settlers whose homeland is now the Netherlands, and who long ago went a-viking to the British Isles and stayed. Quite frankly, modern Dutch is incomprehensible to a modern English speaker, unless they were born there.

Oddly enough, so is Latin.

So—a bunch of smart guys in Victorian England applied the rules of a dead language, Latin, to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian, added a bunch of mish-mash words and usages invented by William Shakespeare, and called it “Grammar.”

Despite the pox-ridden history of the English language, it helps to have a framework to go by when writing, so yes—I use a book of rules, the Chicago Manual of Style.  This helps me to remain consistent in my writing, and smooths the narrative for the reader.

You can use any style guide you choose, but you must remain consistent.

My biggest complaint when reading indie novels is that some authors don’t realize how critical consistency is, and so many small errors could have been solved without too much trouble, if an editor had seen the manuscript prior to publication.

That is where an external eye is SO handy. I feel that a good relationship with an editor is the most important investment an indie can make in her career. Even if you have an editor, it's a good idea to examine every sentence yourself for consistency, and make a usage-list for yourself, using the first instance of how any made-up word is used in the manuscript. That is what an editor will do for you.

This is so that your own usages don't evolve as the story does, and made up names remain capitalized or hyphenated as you originally intended.

I do recommend you print out each chapter and go down it using an envelope to shield everything that is below the sentence you are looking at, or even do it backwards, starting at the end and going up.

I have editors, because even with these precautions I don’t always get it right.

But I do make the effort.

ParaDon Books Publishing

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