Friday, January 7, 2011

Word Peeve of the Day

I aim to be chill about language. It's an ever-evolving thing, you know? Be cool! Creative usage is how we grow!

But when there are two words that mean completely different things, I do like professionally published books to use the one that makes the most sense, assuming that the 'wrong' one isn't being used on purpose for literary effect.

I read The Passage recently, and I have a note for Justin Cronin's copy editor: 'retched' is vomiting or gagging or possibly dry heaving. Pronounced more or less like 'recht,' where 'ch' is soft like in 'cheese.'

Verb. Past tense of 'retch.' It's an excellent word, and I recommend it.

But if you mean pitiful, sad, bedraggled, miserable, or the like, you want 'wretched.' Pronounced more or less like 'rech-ed.' Two syllables.

Adjective. Also an excellent word, and I heartily recommend it.

I should know, right? I named my blog with it.

I swear I saw 'retched' about three times in this book in contexts where it made no sense at all, but where 'wretched' would have worked. It was weird. People looked 'retched' and so forth. Wait, someone looked 'vomited'?

Now if it was in the context of "Look what the cat retched up!" that would have been fine, but no, it seemed pretty much as if it meant 'wretched.'

And I completely understand that in the day-to-day world not everyone has a blog named after the contents of Gollum's lair, or has a dictionary right to hand, or wants to slow the rush of their thoughts to figure out which of two near-homonyms is the right one for the job.

Grammatical mistakes occur. If it happens on someone's blog or something, I'm not going to sneer and point and make fun of the fact that not everyone is as well-informed as I am about the fine points of vomiting versus being in a deplorable state.

I mean, I will, but I'll do it quietly, to myself.

After all, I'm sure I've made my fair share of glaring grammatical errors over the years, and I'll thank you to snicker quietly into your sleeve about them rather than making a big public fuss.

But if you're going to go getting published, I kind of assume that someone with a dictionary will review your work, and make sure all the words mean something that makes sense. As much as sense-making is part of your artistic vision, of course.

So it just seemed odd, in a large, much-hullaballooed novel from a major publisher, to have this strange mix-up. I'm not completely ruling out the possibility that Justin Cronin did it on purpose for literary effect, but if so, I have to say that effect is quite lost on me.

I suppose I also had some thoughts about the novel itself, but seriously, this word issue drives them all out of my head. Yeah, I read it, it had vampires, whatever. But did you get a load of the freakishly inapt use of 'retched' in there? Dude!

All right, I'm done for the night.

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