Another on My List of Dislikes

A third to add to my list of pet peeves--sloppy use of language under two categories:

(1) general--using nauseous for nauseated, continuously and continually, imply and infer, etc.  With the most skilled writers, these lapses are generally few.

(2) technical.  And I cite as my example here one from Philip Roth's Exit Ghost. There is a small scene in which he describes the mating of box or snapping turtles (I forget which) in the course of which he refers to these reptiles as amphians.  NO!  They may be facultatively amphibious in habit of life, but they are not amphibians/class Amphibia, they do not obligatively live part of their lives in water (that is, they don't start with gills and eventually develop lungs.)  They don't reproduce in the water and they are not frogs, toad, newts, salamanders, or caecilians.  Indeed, they are tetrapod amniotes.

Why should this bother me as much as it does?  For those who understand these things, they are distracting.  We talk about attention to detail, and here a detail has slipped out of whack.  Most third graders could tell you that a turtle is not an amphibian.

I got over it and finished the novel and enjoyed it, but I was disappointed that so great a writer made so sloppy and error.  (And I say sloppy, because elsewhere in the same passage Roth refers to the animals (correctly) as reptiles.)

This kind of technical sloppiness is actually more attritubutable to the fact that some writers get to a point where their editors are reluctant to touch a word.  They shouldn't be--every writer, no matter how exalted, could profit from someone looking over the work and suggesting these kinds of minor touch-ups.  Every author needs a continuity, consistency, and technical editor.


  1. Yikes! I'm not sure I know the difference between nauseous and nauseated! Continuously and continually I'm a bit fuzzy on, but imply and infer I'm confident about.

    Quite agree with your dislikes as stated in the previous post, the vulgarity, the political broadsides, etc.

  2. Dear Dylan,

    The distinction between nauseous and nauseated is being eroded by linguistic change, and is really a minor point (and so I shouldn't insist upon it--but because of a love of words and nuance, I do, sort of, within reason, sometimes). Etymologically nauseous was used to mean causing nausea--the vernacular has it as being nauseated.

    Continuous--occurring without break or interruption. Continual--occurring over and over again. Thus "My neighbor mows his lawn continuously" is a Sisyphean epic of a sentence, however, when he does it merely continually, it is a common enough practice amongst surbanites.

    But for people who love words--as many readers are and most writers should be, such minor distinctions sing. Hence my peeve.

    Thanks for visiting and writing.



  3. An excellent post - and I wholly agree. Every writer needs a partnership with a strong editor. Someone who will test the words and intent of the writer and hold up a very high standard. I find that too many "popular" writers seem to find themselves beyond the need of an editor and it's a shame. I see far too many bloated, weak works that could have been vastly improved with a strong editorial red pen.

  4. Randy,

    Thank you for dropping by and commenting. Of course, I agree. And in addition, an editor is a person who has dedicated part of his or her life to your work and desires the same end that you do. As a result, he or she is a person well worth talking to--most especially when you disagree with an evaluation. Sometimes your purpose is not fulfilled despite your thought about it and having a sounding board can be a helpful way of teasing out the end your desire--even if it is not the end either you or the editor had in mind.



  5. I laughed outloud reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, which details common mechanical mistakes.

    Misuse of "hopefully" is one error I have to correct continually in my own usage. Split infinitives are another.

    In college, I had a professor, Edward Cronin, who read Ulysses outloud to us and parsed it for an entire semester. He had compiled his own list of frequent grammatical mistakes made by collegiate writers. After we had turned in each paper, we had to meet with him in "confession," and correct our "sins," which then had to be listed at the top of each following paper. He is not to be forgotten.

  6. Dear Emily,

    Yes, I fear that hopefully is one that I often succumb to as well. And I think there is a great deal of power when one splits the infinitive--or was the the atom?

    Thanks for commenting.



  7. Hi Steve,

    I just chanced upon your site looking for the medical/psychological name for "hatred of things" like "phobias" being "fears of things." If you know that word, please advise.

    However, after further reading your blog, I thought you might be able to help me with another word I'm having trouble understanding, and that is Bakhtin's "heteroglossia." Any insight?

    Also, as I do not have any social networking accounts, I have posted here as "anonymous" but my name is Gwen.

  8. Dear Gwen

    I'm not certain that there is a "fear of things" as such, but there is a fear of everything--pantophobia. Usually fear words are associated with a particular object thalassaphobia=fear of the ocean; triskadecaphobia=fear of the number thirteen; climacophobia=fear of ladders.

    Heteroglossia--I would need to see the context, but etymologically it can be parsed into "hetero=different and "glossia" (as in glossolalia)= tongues. So heteroglossia would be different tongues as in different languages. This, however, is merely etymological and it would need to be applied in context to ascertain its specific connotation.

    Hope this helps.

    You might want to take a look at:

    for heteroglossia.




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