Top Five Minor Language Pet Peeves

I mean, if I had to construct a list of my Top Ten Major Pet Peeves, that would include “My mother and I” constructions as the object, when it should be “My mother and me.” Also effect / affect. Also obviously I just detest “alright” and want to see a stake driven through its heart.

Not sure what else would be on a personal Top Ten List of Language Sins, but those three would certainly be the first items listed because they drive me batty.

But as list of MINOR Language Pet Peeves are different. These are things that I do notice and that annoy me, but … they’re minor. They not necessarily less common, but they don’t bother me as much, although I wish authors wouldn’t make these mistakes and when they do, I roll my eyes. So this is a personal list, not a list of how egregious particular mistakes may be, not even how common or rare these mistakes may be.

I’m sure I could come up with ten if I mused for a while, but I thought of five quickly, so here:

Top Five List of Minor Language Pet Peeves

1) Using “instinctive” when it should be “reflexive.” For me, this feels … oh … it might feel to me something mistakes involving “rapier” when you mean “scimitar” might feel to a sword expert. The words instinctive and reflexive are so obviously different to me that this is a mistake that stands out. But it’s also a common mistake and I’m used to it and I don’t really get very annoyed by it.

2) Using “panic” when it should be “terror.” This one seems equally obvious and I’m actually more annoyed by it, rather than less. It seems to me that these are normal words without special jargon meanings. It annoys me when authors make mistakes with normal words like this.

3) Using “may” when it should be “might.” The typical mistaken construction is similar to this: “She may have been hurt by that anvil you threw out the window” when in fact the incident is in the past and she was not hurt and this is known to be the case. “May” is the wrong word in that construction. The correct word for that is “might.” In some situations, yes, there can be ambiguity about which word is correct, but there’s no ambiguity here. “May” is just wrong in constructions when you know that the thing did not happen. These mistakes are jarring and, if the author does this over and over, turn into a fingernails-on-the-blackboard phenomenon.

4) Making up your own noun when an actual noun is sitting right there. I’m thinking of authors who use a word like “subtleness” when any professional author ought to know perfectly well that the word “subtlety” exists. There are plenty of nouns that are properly created using the -ness suffix and those are fine. But it’s grating when an author makes up a new noun like that for no reason on earth. I have personally DNFed a book because the author did this on the first page.

5) Making mistakes with homonyms or near-homonyms.

None of the above pet peeves is exactly like mistaking “capital” for “capitol” or “tenet” for “tenant.” The above are mostly errors that involve distinctions of meaning in words that aren’t homonyms at all. They are errors of near- or quasi-synonyms instead of errors of near-homonyms.

So for #5, I’m just lumping together all homonym errors, in the full awareness that I’m perfectly capable of typing the wrong homonym myself. Mostly I do catch them promptly, and so should everybody else if they’re putting out a real book. Social media or blog posts, I’m a lot more forgiving because those are inherently more casual and also don’t get exhaustively proofread the way a novel should be. But nobody should allow “parameter” to appear in a finished novel when the correct word is “perimeter,” and so on for the inexhaustible list of homonyms and near-homonyms.

By the way, I loaded the newest and most correct file for the 4th Black Dog collection five minutes ago, because last night I finished reading through the novellas ONE MORE TIME. I caught two more frank errors, a couple phrases that might have been awkward, a few words that were repeated too close together, a handful of commas that now strike me as unnecessary, and so on.

I have four days to catch anything else, and my mother is doing one more read-through right now. But I’m feeling pretty confident that the version now loaded to KDP is clean enough that it won’t embarrass me to have it go out. Whew!

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5 thoughts on “Top Five Minor Language Pet Peeves”

  1. The may in place of might thing drives me up the wall, but it’s so common I actually looked it up recently to see if it was a regionalism or Canadian or something. It doesn’t seem to be, but I didn’t try that hard. I do not understand how this gets past so many copy editors and proofreaders! It doesn’t help that I spend a lot of my day job correcting indirect speech (in meeting reports) and there is no ambiguity there, all mays must be changed to might and all cans to coulds etc. so I can’t not see it.

    The near homonyms thing will force me to DNF not just a book but an author. I try to be forgiving with an author’s early books but if they do not learn that they have this problem and fix it I will give up on all of their books.

  2. #5 is a particular pet peeve of mine as well! There also seems to be a category of this type of mistake where the author misunderstands the use of a word in a metaphor. For instance, I just read a book which used “the plains of her face.” I’ve also seen “free reign” and “taking a different tact.”

  3. The homonym errors act as memes: somehow “wild hare” becomes “wild hair”, flout becomes flaunt, and “Hear hear!” becomes “Here here!” And not just in one case, but all over the place, no matter how often it is corrected.

  4. R Morgan, for someone who is traditionally published, if they have “parameter” instead of “perimeter” or anything similar, I know — I am almost one hundred percent sure — that the copy editor caught that and the author used stet to keep the wrong word. I have never had a copy editor who would have missed something like that. That makes me really annoyed with the author, and I feel like they cannot have a good feel for language, and yes, I am probably done with that author. I’m more forgiving with a self-published author’s books, especially earlier books.

    BUT. If I love the book enough in other ways, I’ll forgive things like this. I will go ahead and use an example. I love Beverly Connor’s murder mysteries featuring forensic anthropologists, such as this series. I love them enough to forgive continual may/might errors all through the books in both her series. This is something that obviously did get past all of her proofreaders — somehow — and though these mistakes caused a little bit of a flinch each and every time, I still love her books.

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