Friday 6 August 2010

Phrases that irritate

I’m a great fan of Rudolfo Anaya. His Bless Me, Ultima is, I believe, one of the best novels ever written for young adults. He wrote it in 1972, many years before the current explosion in YA texts. It is very well written and deals with identity possibly better than any other book. I’m currently reading The Anaya Reader – a collection of novel excerpts, short stories and essays. They are good – especially so if one remembers that he is not writing in his own language.
Yet he still gets away with some clichés and overwriting that I would pull my students up for. He uses “pervades” and “fills the air” quite often. These annoy me. Not as much as those writers who use the word “garb” or “vestments” when they really mean “clothes”. Such language should only be used as part of a character’s voice and even then there is an argument that says one should use modern speech… because in Tudor time, or whenever, they used what was then modern speech.
I think the more abstract examples, such as those I’ve quoted form Anaya, might come about because the writer is writing aurally. They are matching the voice they hear in their head of other writers reading their work out loud. As with all clichés, the “fills the air” and “pervades” were quite clever - the first time, but even then I suspect that particular writer ought to have killed off a darling.
Not that Anaya need worry. I award Dan Brown 58% for his work. So any of my own students who receive 59% or higher – and most of them are considerably higher – stand some chance of publication. I’m not afraid to award marks over 70% - a first class mark and again, several of my students achieve this. To Anaya, for all his works, I give 75%. If he ditched the clichés he be in the region of 87% - or higher.

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