Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Cat's Not a That

I'm convinced everyone in the world--everyone who writes, at least--has a special writing hang-up. You know, something other writers do that absolutely drives you nuts when you read it. Like arbitrarily using the second person, for example.

It doesn't have to include breaking or even bending a grammatical rule. Just something you read which, as a writer, makes you want to shout at your cat, "Don't they know better? Why???"

To which your cat will probably roll over and ignore you, but this doesn't make the hang-up any easier to gloss over next time you come across it.

For me there's a few such pet peeves. I have a certain favorite writer who uses phrases like 'he climbed upwards towards the summit,' or, 'she inched forward towards the light.' Really? Couldn't you just use upward/forward OR toward? The word 'towards' with an S, for that matter, makes my eye twitch. It's not like it's plural, so what does the S accomplish?

The word alright. Because it's not a word. Use it when you want me not to pay attention to you anymore.

People who spell out abbreviations into words. I once read a book where KO'd became kayoed. Ugh.

But perhaps the worst for me--and keep in mind, there's no grammatical precedent for this to bother me (at a time I thought there was, but so MANY people do it and I've never found the rule anywhere, meaning I must've imagined its existence) is the use of that for who.

Bob was a person that liked cheese.

Really? Because you just said Bob was a person; as in, a living, sentient, animate being. Shouldn't that mean Bob is a who, not a that? Or, more precisely, a what?

Now that I've mentioned it here I'm sure you'll see it everywhere--I sure do. In books and advertisements and newspapers. In the writing of people who get paid nicely to do it. In song lyrics. In commercials.

I think it's rational to make this a rule, even though it's not. Do you think of people as that's instead of who's? Maybe this usage is so popular because people get queasy worrying about the difference between who and whom, I don't know. I just know when I read a story in the realm of fantasy and SF this becomes an issue insomuch as who is a sentient word while that isn't, necessarily. So when you write something like:

He was afraid of the monster that lived in his sock drawer.

Do you see how that's different from:

He was afraid of the monster who lived in his sock drawer.

In the second instance, the monster is an individual. And in fantasy and SF, this distinction often needs to be made.

So anyway, like I said, this is only my own pet peeve. I'm sure you're not the kind of person who'd ever write something like that.

"A cat is a who, not a that. And stop calling me your pet peeve."

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