Monthly Archives: July 2020

Onomatopoeia

How do you represent various sounds in writing? The term for vocal (and written) imitation of sounds, onomatopoeia, means “to make names.” (The word, a Latinization of a Greek word, consists of the term that is also the origin of name, nominal, and the like and the one from which poem and poet are derived.) But making names is complicated by the fact that spelling of sounds is arbitrary.

Various languages represent common sounds with uncommonly assorted words. What in English would be spelled chomp or munch is in Indonesian krauk and in Japanese musha-musha. Shh, or hush, is translated as psszt in Hungarian and cht in Spanish. Achoo! is spelled apchix in Bulgarian and achhee! in Hindi. Sometimes — for instance, because a frog in one country is a different species from one in another country and therefore may actually make a different sound — this variation is logical. But often (look up the various representations for meow around the world) the differences are perplexing.

But even within one language, a writer is challenged by the ambiguity of sounds. How, exactly, does one spell a yell? That word itself is onomatopoeic, but “Yell!” is not a yell. A cry of anger is distinct from one of fear. And an exclamation of pain could be spelled starting with an a (“Aughhh!”), an o (“Owww!”), or a y (“Yeow!”).

Some variation from what a reader may be accustomed to is reasonable: If I routinely spelled an archvillain’s triumphant evil laugh “Bwah-hah-hah!” I would be distracted but not derailed to see it treated as “Muah-ha-ha!” But “Myau” would not alert me to the presence of a cat; in English, either the spelling above or the British English preference, miaow (or mew, a variation suggesting a gentler cry) is standard.

But how do I know that? The compositional catch-22 — “How can I look something up in the dictionary if I don’t know how to spell it?” — may come into play, especially when the word starts with a vowel. But that’s step number one: Look it up. Is a donkey’s bray spelled “Hee haw”? Type the word into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you’ll learn whether your guess is validated. (In this case, English is in the minority among languages, most of which begin spelling of that sound with a vowel.) Or rely on your reading — whether your sources are science journals or comic books, some standard is likely to prevail.

Neologisms or words not generally granted legitimacy in writing (fuggedaboudit, anyone?) can be a challenge, but try an online search if you’re not sure. You’ll likely get a response for more than one alternative, but apply the quality test, not the quantity test: Judge the preferred spelling not on which is most frequent, but which is used on the most authoritative (or least questionable) sites.

But in the right circumstance, go ahead and take a chance. If you desire, for example, that a character respond to another’s cattiness, a flat utterance of “Meow” may convey the first person’s cynical understatement, whereas “Reerrrrrrrrrrr!” will, despite its lack of resemblance to the standard spelling, clearly evoke an unambiguous judgment about the second character’s provocative statement or behavior.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Hyphenating Prefixes

A reader who works with legal transcription has the following question:

There seems to be a trend towards having the prefixes and suffixes separate from the modified noun instead of being attached or hyphenated. What is proper?  Some examples are non negotiable, post surgery, post doctorate, age wise.

The examples given present a variety of forms, not all of which represent a prefix+noun combination.

The prefix non- is added to nouns of action, condition, or quality with the sense of “absence, lack of,” or simply “not.” for example, non-Catholic.

Non- is affixed to adjectives to make them negative. Whether to add a hyphen depends upon whether American or British usage is being observed. The OED hyphenates many words that M-W shows written as one word. For example, M-W gives nonnegotiable, but OED has non-negotiable.

When it comes to another word in the reader’s list, however, both the OED and M-W agree with postdoctorate, although both prefer postdoctoral.

The prefix post- means, “after” or “behind.” It is added to adjectives without a hyphen: postcolonial, postsurgical. Post can be used on its own as a preposition meaning, “after”: “Your mouth will be extremely dry post surgery.” In this context post is a separate word. Added to a noun to create a descriptor, however, post would require a hyphen: “Post-surgery care is vitally important.”

The suffix -wise means, “in the manner of” or “as regards,” as in clockwise, lengthwise, foodwise, etc. This combining form is never separated from the word it’s added to, either by a hyphen or by a space. It can have other meanings, of course. For example, a person is said to be “penny wise, but pound foolish.” In this context wise is a word that means “possessing wisdom”; it is not a suffix.

Hyphenation is not an exact science. Authorities differ regarding the necessity of a hyphen, but I’m reasonably sure that all agree that suffixes aren’t free agents that can stand apart from the words to which they belong.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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