…by Senior Editor Victoria Curran
I love words. I love talking about words. I especially love learning new things about words. So when I had lunch a week ago with one of Harlequin’s former copy editors, now retired, for our annual Toronto Winterlicious outing, it made me smile that she called over the waiter to grill him about the word “sassafras” describing the split-pea soup gumbo. And then she called him back about “celeriac remoulade” describing the chickpea and pea fitters. (We go to very snobby restaurants for our annual prix fixe outing…and then we order tap water and fight over the exact tip…waiters love us.) But we really got sidetracked over her dessert, the key lime pudding described as a “posset.” For that one, she pulled out a pen and jotted it down in her notebook. That night I got an email from her outlining the etymology of the word, and I only wish I’d kept her email! (For those as unfamiliar as we were, a posset was in essence a popular medieval hot curdled milk drink that has somehow evolved into a pudding.)
From posset last week, my informal research took me to “slacks” this week. That’s a mighty polarizing word among editors and authors, and I turned to my nine older siblings and their spouses to find out if any of them wore “slacks.” The responses cracked me up. Apparently Canadians find “slacks” to be an older term that’s gone by the wayside and, debatably, they were only ever worn by the kids who weren’t cool. As far as my little crew of Canadians are concerned, slacks are something Trixie Belden’s mom would’ve forced her to wear, except she was already dressed in dungarees—a word I just had to look up to make sure I’d got it down right!
My family also includes Brits and Irishwomen, who weighed in against “pants”—the Canadian preferred choice of casual bottoms—as an alternative to “slacks” because pants mean underpants in the UK. Who knew? (One stray Brit thought “pants” meant the stretchy outerwear with stirrups worn for downhill skiing…but clearly she’s not a skier.)
In the middle of all this glorious luxuriating in words, a buddy of mine wrote a get-well note to a couple on Facebook that included the word “youse” and she put it apologetically in quotation marks. I immediately added my own get-well wishes and then told my buddy to man up, remove those quotation marks and proudly embrace her use of the Old English plural form of “you,” similar to the French “vous,” which made its way across to North America via ports of call like Boston back in the day. I love that it still exists, even if only to embarrass those who use it. And it warms my heart that traces of the Old English simple past of verbs like “drag” crop up occasionally in some of my authors’ stories, as for instance, the cowboy drug his heels across the floor. Yay! Old English in action.
The longer I’m an editor, the more I can see that there are no rights or wrongs for grammar and style in English. It’s an incredibly complex evolution over centuries with a ton of twists and turns that make it fascinating to study. And that’s why there are so many different style guides out there. For every rule of English, I challenge you that there’s an opposing rule and a strong argument for both. And proponents for one or the other will fight you to the death. I had been taught by my first magazine editor, for instance, that “comprised of” is a common error. That the correct sentence is “The house comprised ten rooms” rather than “The house was comprised of ten rooms.” I defended that “rule” for years until I recently researched it with a Harlequin copy editor and see that my former boss’s “rule” is the common error. There’s a whole history behind each school of thought. (To all the authors out there whose “comprised” I’ve self-righteously messed with, apologies. I suspect Jen Snow might be one, oops.)
The more I know, clearly the less I know. And I find that exhilarating. I look forward to discovering more about English and storytelling through working with the talented authors at Heartwarming (and let’s not forget Superromance, the other series I work on!), and the editors on our team who bring a wealth of diverse experience and knowledge to the table.
Also, I’d like to wish a belated happy book birthday to the authors of our February Heartwarming stories: Carol Ross (A Family Like Hannah’s), Eleanor Jones (The Little Dale Remedy), our Valentine anthology co-authors Melinda Curtis, Cari Lynn Webb and Anna J. Stewart (Make Me A Match) and debut author Sophia Sasson (First Comes Marriage), who caught our attention in the Heartwarming contest two years ago.