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When it comes to sentence structure and grammar, I’m often out of my depth. I tend to use too many commas, I hate semi-colons, and in my pre-marital days, I often ended a “Goodnight” sentence with a proposition.


Despite my lack of grammatical skills, I’m not too bad when it comes to spotting misconceptions about the meaning/use of certain words or phrases. Literary boo-boos if you will.


I don’t mean the ones where writers confuse their ‘there’s with their ‘they’re’s [and you can bet I checked that line a half dozen times]. I’m talking about the deliberately chosen, but factually incorrect, type of boo-boo.


Fire an arrow? Only if it's committed a sackable offence

When I did archery back in the seventies, the first thing the instructor told me – aside from saying that I was holding the bow back to front – was that you don’t ‘fire’ an arrow (not even a fire-arrow), you loose it, or shoot it.

Decimated – it’s not as bad as you think

If an attacking force is decimated, that doesn’t mean that most of them are killed, far from it.


The term comes from Roman times, when the punishment for a unit which fled the battlefield was decimation. The unfortunate soldiers drew straws, after which the one in ten (even more unfortunate) soldiers who’d drawn the shortest straws were stoned to death by their comrades, as a warning for anyone else in the army feeling less than courageous.
Smelly blood? Only if someone’s been drinking

Okay, so this as a misconception, rather than a mis-use, but I think it's worth noting that, aside from vampires and werewolves, who apparently have more sensitive nostrils than us mere mortals, people can’t smell blood. I learned this from Lew Preschel, a writer friend and retired doctor with many years of E.R. experience, though he did tell me the exception was when the patient had been drinking alcohol, in which case the stench was hard to ignore.

Cockney rhyming slang - I don't Adam and Eve it

I was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in the north east of England, so I can’t claim any natural-born expertise here, but isn’t the whole point of using Cockney-rhyming slang to make it hard for eavesdroppers to understand what's being said?

Assuming that’s correct, having supposedly authentic Cockney characters say things like ‘plates of meat’ [feet], and ‘apples and pears’ [stairs] makes no sense. Wouldn’t they just say ‘plates’ and ‘apples’?


Vikings – a mythical race with illogical headgear (who may have invented cupholders)

Did you know that Vikings never existed. 'Viking' isn’t even a name, it’s a verb. It was something the Danes did when they weren’t trading (admittedly they did a heck of a lot of it).


While we’re on the subject, there’s no evidence to support the idea that the Danes had horns on their helmets either, which is probably just as well, since they wouldn’t be a smart thing to wear in a fight – the helmet would get knocked off too easily.

So why do we have this image of Vikings sorry, Danes, with horned helmets?

I have a theory about this.

We know they drank out of horns. Is it possible that, in addition to discovering America, they also invented the world’s first cup-holders? Of course, they’d have to take them off their helmets before going into a proper battle, but most of the time they faced little opposition, so they may well have taken their cups along in case they wanted to stop for a quick drink on the way back to the longboat.

Of course, I could be wrong.


How about you? What misused words or general misconceptions have you come across?

Editors note:  As of 12:35pm, we've had 72 comments and nobody's disagreed with my Viking Danish cup-holder theory.  Perhaps there's something to it after all :)

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Aug. 19th, 2009 01:08 pm (UTC)
Hello. A LOT of people use it inappropriately. It's a distinctly 'earth' word brought into use because of the telephone. If there is no telephone in a fantasy world, there shouldn't be a 'hello' either. The greeting was 'hullo' or 'halloo' but not 'hello' until Thomas Edison came up with it for use as a telephone greeting. Alexander Graham Bell wanted 'ahoy,' but 'hello' won out as the official greeting by telephone operators so that telephoners would know she was ready to connect the line. (And if you're The Simpsons savvy, notice that Mr. Burns uses "ahoy-hoy" when he answers the phone. A shout out to Bell.)
Gads there are TONS of such misused words that get by without most never noticing. Being somewhat of a stickler for etymology, they rarely get by me without causing at least a grimace. :)
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Aug. 19th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Some really stick out for me; hello being one of them. Also, curse words. Damn is ok, as it's a verb that has been in use since biblical times. But others get fuzzy. There's a rule in fantasy fiction--don't use curse words and never use earth slang! Totally ruins the worldbuilding if the youth watching the jugglers juggling flaming swords says, "Cool!"
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Aug. 19th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
Short of inventing a language, a fantasy story is automatically inauthentic.

The eternal conflict! It's one of the drawbacks of writing fantasy. Everyone has their lines they won't cross--and they're ALL over the place! :)

Gates of Fire, huh? I'll have to check it out.
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Aug. 19th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
Affecting? Or effecting? (heh-heh, I'm a cheeky thing.)

Gates of Fire looks good. I'm putting it on my Amazon list. :) Thanks!
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(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Aug. 19th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 19th, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC)
Appropriately old, as a matter of fact. :) The etymology of it, however, has to do with specific things inherent to specific events and/or literature in earth history. Crosses the line--well, some lines. ;) AND, fuck is a tough word to trace, with so many claims to authenticity. However, your point in the other comment is quite valid--ALL words fall under the category of unauthentic when it comes to fantasy.

I did think of another no-no that I see too often: OK. DEFINITELY NOT OK! It also has many claims to authenticity, but it's most often cited as coming from Old Kinderhook, Martin Van Buren's nickname--blah-blah-blah.

(Deleted comment)
Aug. 19th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
I think you could be right!
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(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Aug. 19th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
It's Anglo-Saxon in origin, I think, but isn't it quite illogical in the way it's used?

No one would tell someone else to 'Get the have sex out of here' :)
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
Speaking of evolving, teenagers across the planet have discarded the word 'hello' in favor of the universal greeting - 'Huuurrr' :)
Aug. 19th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Ah, all part of the marble-in-the-mouth syndrome today's young seem prone to acquiring. :)

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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