Tag Archives: Grammar

Similes Galore

Have you ever wanted to compare two people, places or things in a pithy way, but couldn’t remember a particular saying, or think of a way to put it?  For starters, what you’re looking for is called a “simile”, and they abound in English!   A simile is a figure of speech used to compare one thing to another, usually using “like” or “as”.  Some are obvious, some are quirky, and some must have a fascinating history.  Here is a small selection using “as…as”; if you know of any others, please add them in the comments below!  Have a great weekend, and keep writing!

blind as a bat & drunk as a skunk - by jellogiant, Deviantart

As likely as not

As long as your arm

As loud as thunder

As mad as a hatter / a March hare

As mad as a wet hen / a hornet

As mean as a snake

As meek as a lamb

As merry as a cricket

As mild as a dove / a lamb / milk / May

As much use as a handbrake on a canoe

As mute as a fish / an oyster / a statue / a stone

As naked as a jaybird / the day they were born

As nervous as a cat (in a room full of rocking chairs) / pig in a packing plant

As nutty as a fruitcake

As obstinate as a mule

As often as not

As old as the hills / Adam / Methuselah

As pale as a ghost / death / ashes

As patient as Job / an ox

As plain as a pikestaff / day / the sun / the nose on your face

As playful as a kitten

As pleased as punch / a dog with two tails

As plump as a partridge

As poor as a church mouse / a rat / Job / Lazarus / dirt

As pretty as a picture

As proud as Lucifer

As proud / pleased as punch

As proud / vain as a peacock

As pure as a lily / (the driven) snow

As quick as a dog can lick a dish / a wink / lightning / a flash

As quiet / still as a mouse / whisper

As red as a rose / a cherry / beetroot / a lobster / a turkey-cock / blood / fire

As regular as clockwork

As rich as Crassus / a Jew

As right as rain / nails / a trivet

As round as a barrel / a ball / an apple / a globe

As safe as houses / the Bank of England

As scarce as hen’s teeth / ice water in hell

As scared as a rabbit

As sharp as a tack / a needle / a razor

As sick as a dog / a parrot

As silent as the dead / the grave / the stars

As silly as a goose / a sheep

As slim as a willow

As slippery as an eel / ice

As slow as a snail / a wet week / molasses in winter / molasses in January

As sly as a fox

As smooth as butter / oil / silk / glass

As snug as a bug in a rug

As sober as a judge

As soft as butter / down / silk / velvet / clay / wax

As sound as a bell

As sour as vinegar

As straight as an arrow / a ramrod

As steady as a rock / the Rock of Gibraltar

As sticky as jam

As stiff as a poker / a ramrod / a board / pikestaff

As still as a mouse / death / the grave

As straight as a die / an arrow / a poker / a ramrod

As strong as an ox / a horse / a bull

As stubborn as a mule / a goat

As sure as death and taxes / death / taxes / a gun / eggs are eggs

As sweet as honey / sugar

As tall as a steeple / maypole / a skyscraper

As thick as thieves / blackberries / pea soup

As thick as two (short) planks

As thin as a rail / paper / thread / a stick

As timid as a deer / hare / rabbit / mouse

As tired as a dog

As tough as old boots / nails / leather

As tricky as a monkey

As true as steel / flint

As ugly as sin / a scarecrow / a toad

As useful as a chocolate teapot

As vain / proud as a peacock

As warm as toast

As watchful as a hawk

As weak as a kitten / a baby / water

As wet as a drowned rat

As white as a ghost / a sheet

As white as snow / chalk / milk

As wide as the poles are apart

As wise as Solomon / an owl

As yielding as wax

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May 27, 2017 · 12:23 PM

Grammarly Musings

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Spell checker in action

I’ve been editing, tweaking, editing, and tweaking this week; not to mention editing.  Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of tools, such as Scrivener, but have found that, for me, the best combination is MS Word and my brain.

One of the tools I’ve also been using recently is a new one for me:  The Grammarly app in Word.  I’m of a mixed opinion about it.  Do any of you use this app with your manuscript?  If so, what is your experience/impression?

So far, the app is batting less than 1 out of 10; in other words, of 10 “critical errors” that it points out, only 1 of them is legitimate.  I’d say the average is more like 1 out of 15 or 18.  There is also a version of this app, which requires a monthly or yearly subscription, that will expand its range of editing suggestions; but before I go that route I want to know that the app actually works in the free version.  So far, it’s more static than editing aid.

Now to be fair, my manuscript is not the average; it’s got words like en queue (the hairstyle of men in the 18th century), and odd terminology to do with nautical actions or environments.  But some of the errors that it points out, such as those to do with commas, are actually correct (e.g. pointing out the second comma of a parenthetical phrase as out of place).  Most of the time the suggestions that it makes are just downright wrong in the context; it proves that language is a fluid concept, and nearly impossible to intelligently simulate in a computer program.  It also means that we are far better off becoming fluent in grammar rather than relying on ANY program to correct our writing!

Having said that, I still appreciate it because it forces me to think through a decision, whether that be sentence structure, punctuation, or phrasing.  Sometimes it sends me in search of confirmation for a grammatical assumption I’ve made; rarely am I surprised by what I find, but it nevertheless helps to solidify the right way of writing something in my mind.  For the most part, I have the app turned off (a great function – the only reason I still use it!), just running it through sections at a time as my other editing nears an end.

Are there any programs or apps that you use for editing?  If so, what is your experience?  Please share in the comments below!

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Wordless Wednesday no. 18

Eye Before Flea

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March 8, 2017 · 3:11 PM

Say It Well

Let’s face it:  When writing dialogues between characters, repetition can tend to sneak up on us:  He said, she said, he whispered, she whispered, and so on.  There are a few tricks I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned along the way; one is regarding grammar, and the other is my own twist on dealing with the issue.

Regarding grammar, action verbs can often take the place of the more passive verbs (such as said):  “He said, ‘I’d like that.’” can be spiced up by giving him an action to do (“He picked up the travel brochure and flipped through it:  ‘I’d like that.’”)  The second sentence gives more context, and is more visually engaging for the reader.  Keep in mind that every word should count; don’t pad out the sentence just for word count, or make each exchange in the conversation a prop advertisement; but punctuating a dialogue with such moments can bring it to life.

My own twist is a literal one – a CD:  I took an old one, covered both sides with blank CD labels, and wrote all of the synonyms (listed below) for say and said in a spiral, starting in the centre, changing colours for each new letter of the alphabet.  To use it, I just put it on my finger and spin it around as I read through the spiral until I find the word that best fits my sentence.  I have several such CDs within reach of my computer (another CD, for instance, is for walk synonyms, and another for lie/lay); if you make enough of them, you could keep them in a CD pouch.  Here’s my list of the words around Say (click on the image to enlarge):

say-list

A word of advice to those of you for whom English is not mother-tongue:  Depending on the word, the sentence structure may need to be adapted.  If you’re unsure how to use a word, I would recommend looking it up on Wordnik, and reading the examples on the right-hand side of the page; then choose the sentence structure, prepositions, etc. that are more frequent than not.

I hope that this list helps you say what you want with the variety and precision you’re aiming for!  Feel free to reblog!  Feel free to print this list out and use it; if you pass it on online please put a hyperlink back to this blog, or recommend my blog if you pass it on by word of mouth… thank you!

If you can think of any words or phrases to replace say or said that I missed in the list above, please put them in the comments below!  Keep writing!

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Mark Twain on Switzerland & the Awful Language of German

This past week I’ve been quite busy getting ready for a big change in our lives:  Taking in an exchange (high school) student for nearly a year.  She’s coming from Thailand, and wants to learn German; I’m not sure she knows what she’s getting herself into, as we don’t speak the German she will need to learn for school; we speak Swiss German, which is about as similar to High German as Old English is to modern English.

In preparation, I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning too – might as well, right?  My main work room, our library, is also where I keep folders full of stories I’ve saved over the years, and while sifting through them I was reminded of an article about Mark Twain’s observations on the German language.  I found what I was looking for in a Kindle book; it would be astonishing (and perhaps a bit discouraging) to Mark Twain if he could see his entire life’s work reduced to an e-book for less than $ 2.00, but so it is.  I was surprised to find a short description of his time in Switzerland, as part of his Grand Tour no doubt.  And as I mentioned above, the German dialects we speak are not the German Mark Twain describes, so I can laugh along with the rest of you (and I can laugh at the fact that the WordPress spell check is going berserk).  I’ll need to resort to High German for the sake of our exchange student, but it grates on my ears and tongue like sandpaper on the eyeballs.  Mark Twain seems to have had similar sentiments.  I will first share his impression of Switzerland, and then bombard you with his opinion of the German language.  This post is a bit longer than my usual offering, but Twain is well worth it!  So put your feet up, get a cuppa, and enjoy!

On Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.

“It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. … there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The first best is afloat. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest. There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger’s first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven’s gates had swung open and exposed the throne. It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. There are floods and floods of that. One may properly speak of it as “going on,” for it is full of the suggestion of activity; the light pours down with energy, with visible enthusiasm. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically.

DCF 1.0

Vierwaldstättersee, taken 2006

“After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe air that has known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic comedies of that sort and size. Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons [Vierwaldstättersee], and I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and insulted country forever free…”

On the Awful German Language

What he had to say about the German and their language is quite different, however:

“Even German is preferable to death.”

“Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, “Let the pupil make careful note of the following EXCEPTIONS.” He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the rule than instances of it. So overboard he goes again, to hunt for another Ararat and find another quicksand.”

“German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head—so as to reverse the construction—but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.”

“…in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.”… “It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk.”

Mark Twain, Young“Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:

Freundschaftsbezeigungen.

Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.

Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page—and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take a great interest in these curiosities. Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock. Here are some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:

Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen.

Alterthumswissenschaften.

Kinderbewahrungsanstalten.

Unabhängigkeitserklärungen.

Wiedererstellungbestrebungen.

Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen.

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it. So he resorts to the dictionary for help, but there is no help there. The dictionary must draw the line somewhere—so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.”

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.”

 

Quotes from the Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

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The Pitfalls of Analogies

These are priceless examples of creativity gone awry.  I don’t know who originally wrote these gems or compiled them; if you know, please tell me so that I can give credit where credit is due!

21 Analogies Used by High School Students in English Essays

  1. “When she tried to sing, it sounded like a walrus giving birth to farm equipment.”
  2. “Her eyes twinkled, like the moustache of a man with a cold.”
  3. “She was like a magnet: Attractive from the back, repulsive from the front.”
  4. “The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one long slender leg behind her, like at dog at a fire hydrant.”
  5. “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli and he was a room temperature Canadian beef.”
  6. “She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.”
  7. “The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.”
  8. “Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.”
  9. “Her eyes were like the stars, not because they twinkle, but because they were so far apart.”
  10. “His career was blowing up like a man with a broken metal detector walking through an active minefield.”
  11. “The sun was below the watery horizon, like a diabetic grandma easing into a warm salt bath.”
  12. “From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.”
  13. “It was as easy as taking candy from a diabetic man who no longer wishes to eat candy.”
  14. “She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes before it throws up.”
  15. “Their love burned with the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.”
  16. “It’s basically an illusion and no different than if I were to imagine something else, like Batman riding a flying toaster.”
  17. “If it was any colder, it would be like being in a place that’s a little colder than it is here.”
  18. “Joy fills her heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows.”
  19. “The bird flew gracefully into the air like a man stepping on a landmine in zero gravity.”
  20. “He felt confused. As confused as a homeless man on house arrest.”
  21. “The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.”

dilbert-bad-analogies

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Just for Fun

Ah, the fun of leaving out two letters…

funny-signs6_1

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Details, details

commas 2

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March 21, 2015 · 10:08 AM

Writing Tip: Layering

Lightning BugIf you’ve ever painted a picture more than a colouring book or a paint-by-number, chances are you’ve learned something along the way about layers.  Layering is also a digital graphics technique in programs such as Photoshop, and as each layer is made, the image changes, taking on the shapes or colours as you add the consecutive elements.

Besides being a writer, I am also a vocal coach.  I only take on students who are already in bands, or preparing for recordings or competitions, and one of the things I teach them is layering within a vocal performance:  The nuances of thoughts, the power of imagination, the colouring of the vocals through not only the physical placement of the tone within their instrument (their body), but the placement of their imagination.  One can communicate boredom or interest or empathy with the exact same wording by merely varying the intonation, and that comes through the layering of the performance.

Writing is much the same way:  It is through the employment of grammar, spelling and punctuation that we signal the reader to prepare for a particular experience; as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  

Oh, the difference between, “It was rainy last night,” and “It was a dark and stormy night”!

So the next time you feel like your manuscript or poem is falling flat, take a minute to think about the layers, and see what creative brush strokes you can give your work.

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Novel Writing Pyramid

Novel Pyramid

When writing or drafting a new story, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the forest due to the trees – in the myriad of ideas that flash up in a brainstorm.  The pyramid above helps remind me of the emphasis each area needs in the overall structure:

If a story is too complex, you’ll lose or confuse your readers; but if it’s too simple, it becomes predictable and therefore no challenge to the mind of the adventurer who’s picked up your book to get lost in another world.  Most of the best stories are, at their heart, quite simple – “boy meets girl”, or “person achieves goal”.

If you don’t know what your settings and themes are, how can you effectively work toward the final outcome?  If you don’t know who your character is, and what your basic plot (goal and how it’s achieved) is, how can you guide the reader through dialogue or prose toward the desired conclusion?  Diction is important because it is central to creating the voice of each character, and sticking to genre-specific vocabulary and expressions (i.e. no proverbial airplanes through the scenes of a historical novel).  As Mark Twain once wrote,

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

And if you have the top four slices of the pyramid in place, but don’t have proper foundations – in other words, know your grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (sentence structures, tense usage, etc.) then no matter how brilliant your plot might be, or your character development, if readers can’t get past your bad diction and grammar, you’ve lost them as present and future readers!

I’d like to encourage you to know your weaknesses, and develop them into strengths!  If grammar or spelling is a weakness, work on it – invest time into reviewing the rules – Wikipedia is an excellent source for articles on how to use punctuation, etc.  Buy a good grammar book, or even a grammar practice book with an answer key at the back (The “English Grammar in Use” series is one I used for years with EFLA students).  If plot or character development is a weakness, then make a list of questions for each, and take the time to think about and answer them.

Good writing is about quality; it’s about solid foundations and constant development, the honing of your skills; it’s about research, thinking outside the box, and being able to convey in words the images born in your mind.  Just as sharpening a pencil makes it easier to write, so does sharpening your mind and skills.

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