Friday, March 17, 2017

Word Wrestle #8: NOT Gonna Make You Smile

Having just discovered this, yet again, being misused in fiction...let's talk about being ORNERY.

Yeah. I know. This space for laughing. 

All personality-themed barbs aside, however, let's truly talk about "ornery." What is IS...and what it AIN'T.
And what it ISN' anything funny.

Several years ago, I first encountered an author I otherwise like very much using the word "ornery" repeatedly when she should have used words like "spunky" or "sassy" or the like. She had characters teasing each other and giving each other "ornery grins."

Well, if she saw someone truly giving an ornery GRIN, she saw someone with a split personality. Because, boys and girls, that's NOT what "ornery" means.
It doesn't mean "smart-aleck."
It doesn't mean "sassy."
It doesn't mean "daring" or "joking" or "teasing."

It means, in a word, NASTY.
The definition lists synonyms like "grouchy or grumpy," "cantankerous," and even "bad- or ill-tempered," "waspish," and "irascible."
The KINDEST term for it in any dictionary I can find is a secondary definition as "stubborn."

Now, in the context that this author used it, she did not mean ANY of the things above, with the possible exception of "stubborn." However, since nothing else in the instances she mentioned had anything to do with someone being stubborn...I can only assume she had acquired some regional misapplication of the word that resulted in using the word wrong-- one that no one had ever bothered to query, so much as correct.

Not even her editors.

And that made ME ornery to see, frankly.

All of which points back to something the CWC says with annoying and even ornery regularity:
Whatever word you choose to use...make SURE you're using it right.
Even if you think you know already, LOOK IT UP.
Even if you're "sure" you know what it means, because everyone in your extended family says it that way, LOOK IT UP.
And, for heaven's sake, if you're only approximately sure what it means, or you're not really sure at all...PLEASE. LOOK. IT. UP.

There's no excuse for using a wrong word like this, over and over, in clear conveyance that you don't know what you're talking about.
There's even less reason for an editor to let it pass by.

You're never, ever, EVER going to give someone an "ornery grin." Unless you have elastic capabilities to both your face and your temperament that, frankly, would be a little scary in real life.

And misusing "ornery" around this friendly editor...will NOT make her smile.
Which will result in a red mark on your manuscript, and not make YOU smile, either.
Use lots of words in your writing. Use all kinds of them. There are something like 600,000 words in the English language, and more are being added every day. So don't be shy. Dig right in and use 'em.

Just please, please, please, please-I-BEG-you... USE THEM RIGHT.
(And they wonder why I drink.)

Don't be ornery about it...but do be picky. If you're going to call yourself an author, picky is one of the first, last, and consistent things you ought to be anyway.
And lazy, quite frankly, is not.
Learn the difference.


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