Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Terror is not the same thing as panic, and other quibbles

Okay, so, today I am going to lodge a complaint. Several complaints.

Modern writers need to figure out that “panic” and “terror” are not synonyms, and copy editors need to suggest when the former term, which is used all the time, should be replaced by the latter.

Terror is extreme fear.

Panic is extreme fear expressed in wild, mindless action.

It is just weird to say that your protagonist “froze in panic.” Freezing in place is not a consequence of panic, but of terror.

Also, “disinterested” is not the same as “uninterested.”

Also, “flaunt” is not remotely the same as “flout.”

Also, for heaven’s sake, stop using “literally” to mean “figuratively.” We need a word that means “literally” and there will be no need to invent another word to take on this meaning if we can just keep “literally” from being turned into its opposite.

Probably that one’s a losing battle.

Well, moving on. When an author writes, “this, far less that,” the second item should be the more extreme case. For some reason a lot of people write things like, “He’s not going to murder me, far less shout at me,” instead of the other way around.

The same is true for the similar phrase “let alone.” An author should not write, “She’s not into extreme hiking, let alone a casual stroll through the woods.”

You can string these types of phrases together, as in: “I can’t afford a skateboard, let alone a bicycle, much less a decent car and far less that fancy pink Cadillac.” When you do this, the items have to go in order of increasing unlikelihood.

I mention all this in full awareness that I personally have to squint at the screen and think about the sentence before deciding whether I meant “advise” or “advice.” Sometimes I accidentally type “breath” when I meant “breathe.” Once I had “cypress” in a story for an awfully long time before I realized I meant “Cyprus.” It’s not like I always demonstrate perfect word choices.

But panic is still not the same thing as terror.

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4 Comments Terror is not the same thing as panic, and other quibbles

  1. Maria

    LOL. Now I’m proud. I’m not a native speaker (and I don’t and have never lived in an English speaking country) and I know these.:)

  2. Rachel

    Good for you, Maria! You can join me in rolling your eyes when you see these kinds of mistakes in published novels.

  3. Irina

    Is there another place in the eye-rolling club? (My pet peeve is ‘capitol’ for the city that’s the administrative center of a country)

  4. Rachel

    Endless room in the club! I must admit, that is probably a mistake I could make. It doesn’t catch my eye nearly as strongly as similar errors, so it’s one I have to look at for a minute before I decide which word I meant — and if I’m writing fast, I may not look at a sentence long enough to notice it.

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