English for RPGs – The Preamble
by, 02-11-2009 at 02:39 AM (2097 Views)
OK. So I’ll be reading away and then boom, all of a sudden my eyes are moving along the page, but no longer processing anything. I’m very visually oriented, so typos, comma misuse, apostrophe abuse and subject-verb non-compliance stand out from the page and wave a flag at me, saying, “Here I am! Here I am!” But the ones that tend to really get under my skin and completely derail me when I hit them are the homophones.
My mind starts turning. I’m thinking about all the eyes that were on the passage before publication (writer, editor, playtesters and proofreaders). I start wondering what schools let them down. Is it ignorance, or do they just not care? If this is what slipped through the net, then what did they catch? Then I start to wonder if maybe the author had written the phrase correctly, and the error had been introduced later. My thoughts are racing, I’m irritated, and I don’t want to go all Christian Bale here, but, “It’s . . . distracting!” Even more so when it’s one of the writer’s “pet expressions” and you see the same mistake three times in five pages.
I’ve been interested in etymology since long before I knew what it was called. But I read RPGs and I see the same errors over and over again. It’s at the point where, when I see “free rein” I get stalled because now I’m thinking “OMG! They got it right!” I’ll read a novel of 500 pages, and I can count the typos etc. that I notice on one hand. In a typical roleplaying book, I’ll notice something every two or three pages.
At any rate, there is a core group of about a hundred or so word pairings that I see twisted up again and again, so I’m going to try to shine a spotlight on them, bring them to people’s attention, and maybe tell a little story about why the idiom is written one way and not the other. At the very least, I can spread the pain around a little bit. So, I’m trying to keep a notebook handy while I read, and when one pops up, I’m marking it down. At the very least, the act of making the notation with the intention to write about it later allows me to focus back on my reading in much less time. I’ll just write about them as I encounter them, I know that at some point, I’ll be talking about affect/effect and grisly/grizzly, but I haven’t seen either of those two pairings misused in the last two weeks, so I’ll save them for later.
Of course, I’m leery of making the grammar rant, because I know that as soon as I post it, the Internet gremlins will sneak in a half-dozen typos on me, so that someone will be required to respond with a, “Ha ha on you!” I’m not a complete grammar freak. There are many grammar rules that I feel are silly and outdated (and that I have already broken in the above paragraphs). Languages grow and evolve – at least living ones do – and I have no problems with neologisms. I wrote a fair bit of poetry when I was younger, so I have some respect for willfully breaking the rules, but none for breaking them out of ignorance.
One example would be that I pronounce my aitches. The people where I live do so also. The people on the television do too. So, I’m not a fan of “an historic” being proper because people long dead didn’t pronounce their aitches. I do admit to deriving some amusement from watching the news anchors stumble over it when it hits the teleprompter, which also serves to show that “historic” is overused to the point where it is essentially meaningless, but that would be a different rant.
Spoken and written English are different. A book is not the same as the conversation style of a bulletin board is not the same as actual speech. If it’s inside of quotation marks, you can write pretty much anything and I won’t complain, even monstrosities like “should of.”
I’m Canadian, so I grew up exposed to both British and American spellings, and while I tend to favour the British, I don’t usually perceive either as being wrong. Sometimes, I’ll assign one meaning to one and another to the other:
lustre (n) shine
luster (n) see Carter, Jimmy (ask your parents)
I do dislike the word utilize/utilise on general principle. “Use” is much less pompous.
So, before starting with the homophone pairs a few other things:
You remember from your math classes that a double negative results in a positive. The same idea applies when using words like “subtract,” “reduce” or “penalize.”
So, “Reduce Fellowship by -5,” actually means, “Increase Fellowship by 5.” It should be “Reduce Fellowship by 5.”
If you want to write the number as a negative, you could use neutral words like, “alter” or “modify.” (If you wanted to, you could even say “bonus of -5” or “add -5,” although they look weird, they would mean what was intended.)
PLURALS, APOSTROPHES AND POSSESSIVES
The apostrophe is never used to make a plural. Okay, so there’s “mind your p’s and q’s,” but it is essentially never.
So, we have: one book, two books; one girl, two girls; and one RPG, two RPGs.
Especially noteworthy for roleplaying is: one die, two dice; an additional die, two additional dice.
Except for a few of the basics (his, her, its, whose, my, etc.), an apostrophe is always used to indicate a possessive. Add an apostrophe plus “s” for words that do not end in an “s,” and just add an apostrophe for words that do end in “s.”
The cover of the book is the book’s cover.
The covers of the books would be the books’ covers.
The mother of the girl is the girl’s mother.
The mother of the girls (siblings) is the girls’ mother.
The mothers of the girls (not sisters) are the girls’ mothers.
The rules of the RPG are the RPG’s rules.
The rules of the RPGs are the RPGs’ rules.
The apostrophe is also used to indicate letters that have been lost to time. Can’t, won’t and so on.
“It’s” equals “it is.” “Who’s” equals “who is.” The possessives are “its” and “whose.”
In spoken English, “is” is often contracted. In written English it can sometimes cause confusion with the possessive, writing “is” in full is generally clearer.
Fantasy writers seem compelled to insert apostrophes into proper nouns. If the name is not a contraction, please resist the impulse.
90+% of the time, this should be “try to.” The general test here is whether or not the sentence still makes sense if you substitute “attempt” (or maybe “taste”) for “try.” If so, then “try and” is fine (you are actually trying and doing something else).Yes, I know that it’s what people say, so if it’s in quotes, do as you will.