Sunday, December 06, 2015

Are these fifty synonyms in Fifty Shades of Grey so bad?


I've not read nor seen Fifty Shades of Grey nor any of its sequels and, good Lord willin' and the creeks don't rise, I never will. I was amused by Patti Greco's piece in Vulture in which she lists what she thinks are "The Fifty Worst Synonyms in Fifty Shades of Grey" and gives what she thinks are appropriate corrections. I agree with some of them, and the sample sentences she's displayed make me think I might not have missed much by ignoring Ms. James's works. In some instances, though, I find Ms. Greco's aversion to words that may seem a wee bit erudite or affected--H.W. Fowler might, were he still living and forced to read my prose, find me too fond of "battered ornaments" or hanging out on Wardour Street--and Ms. Greco's wanting to replace them with a string of commonplace words that make the sentence longer, not to my liking. Here's the list:


1-2. The offense: "To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a colossal glass-and-stone edifice."

The fix: "To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading a classic British novel, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Not sitting twitching nervously in a giant glass-and-stone building."

My response: I agree on replacing "colossal", a word that, in my opinion, should be used only for olives or statuary. I like the word "edifice", especially if there's stone involved.


3. The offense: “I squirm; he’s made me feel like an errant child.”

The fix: “I squirm; he’s made me feel like a disobedient child.”

My response: I like "errant", and it's shorter.


4. The offense: “I haven’t made any plans, Mr. Grey. I just need to get through my final exams. Which I should be studying for right now, rather than sitting in your palatial, swanky, sterile office, feeling uncomfortable under your penetrating gaze.”

The fix: Cut palatial…it means the same thing as swanky.

My response: I agree.


5. The offense: “The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State gave you his cell phone number?”

The fix: The richest, most elusive, most mysterious bachelor in Washington State gave you his cell phone number?”

My response: Almost a draw, but I prefer "enigmatic", which to me has a slight difference in meaning.


6. The offense: “ 'Ray? He’s … taciturn.' ”

The fix: “ 'Ray? He’s … a quiet guy.' ”

My response: "Taciturn" is a good word, but it seems out of place in what appears to be a snippet of ordinary conversation, so I agree with Ms. Greco.


7. The offense: "I refrain from rolling my eyes at him."

 The fix: "I stop myself from rolling my eyes at him."

My response: What's wrong with "refrain"? It's punchier.


8. The offense: “Okay … so his grey eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to expunge the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain.”

The fix: “Okay … so his grey eyes are still haunting my dreams, and I know it will take an eternity to forget/shake the feel of his arms around me and his wonderful fragrance from my brain.”

My response: I've long thought "expunge" an ugly word. It sounds like something that formerly was used to soak up spills. In this instance, I'll go with the longer of Ms. Greco's suggested alternatives, "forget", because "shake the feel of his arms" seems awkward.


 9. The offense: " 'Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women sentient and receptive,' he says dryly."

The fix: " 'Anastasia, you were comatose. Necrophilia is not my thing. I like my women awake and able to feel what I’m doing,' he says dryly."

My response: I'd go with "awake and receptive".


 10. The offense: "One minute he rebuffs me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books, then he tracks me like a stalker."

The fix: "One minute he rejects me, the next he sends me fourteen-thousand-dollar books, then he tracks me like a stalker."

My response: Six of one; half a dozen of the other.


11. The offense: "I brusquely towel-dry my hair and try desperately to bring it under control."

The fix: "I rush to towel-dry my hair and try desperately to bring it under control."

My response: I agree. "Brusque" may technically be applicable to hair drying, but I don't think of it that way.


 12-13. The offense: "He puts down his cutlery and regards me intently, his eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion."

The fix: "He puts down his fork/knife/spoon and looks at me intently, his eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion."

My response: No problem with cutlery, assuming he put down more than one piece, and no problem with "regards".


14. The offense: “I wanted to run my fingers through his decadent, untidy hair, but I’d been unable to move my hands.”

The fix: Cut. This makes no sense.

My response: I'm not sure why Ms. Greco thinks it "makes no sense." I'm guessing it has to do with bondage. "Decadent" isn't an adjective I'd think of for hair.


15. The offense: “If I could only lean forward, my nose would be in his hair. He smells clean, fresh, heavenly, but I’m fastened securely in my seat and effectively immobile.”

The fix: “If I could only lean forward, my nose would be in his hair. He smells clean, fresh, heavenly, but I’m fastened securely in my seat and can’t move.”

My response: I agree.


16-17. The offense: “He sits down beside me and buckles himself into his seat, then begins a protracted procedure of checking gauges and flipping switches and buttons from the mind-boggling array of dials and lights and switches in front of me.”

The fix: “He sits down beside me and buckles himself into his seat, then begins a dragged-out process of checking gauges and flipping switches and buttons from the mind-boggling array of dials and lights and switches in front of me.”

My response: How about "long process"?


18. The offense: “ 'Christian, what you fail to understand is that I wouldn’t talk about us to anyone anyway. Even Kate. So it’s immaterial whether I sign an agreement or not.' ”

The fix: “ 'Christian, what you fail to understand is that I wouldn’t talk about us to anyone anyway. Even Kate. So it doesn’t matter whether I sign an agreement or not.' ”

My response: I agree. I read enough lawyerese without having to find it in trashy fiction.


19. The offense: “My subconscious has reared her somnambulant head. Where was she when I needed her?”

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

My response: I'm not sure what's implied, but I don't know how a head can sleepwalk.


20-21. The offense: “He’s facing me, and I have an unprecedented opportunity to study him.”

The fix. “He’s facing me, and I have a chance to study him for the first time.”

My response: I'm OK with either.


22. The offense: “Climbing out of the bath, I take his proffered hand.”

The fix: Cut; it’s implied.

My response: I agree.


23. The offense: “This time he doesn’t stop at my knee, he continues up the inside of my thigh, pushing my thighs apart as he does. And I know what he’s going to do, and part of me wants to push him off because I’m mortified and embarrassed.”

The fix: Pick one. These mean the same thing.

My response: They do, but I think using two synonymous or nearly synonymous words for emphasis can be appropriate and useful.


24. The offense: “I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over in my hands.”

The fix: “I sit on my bed and slip the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over in my hands.”

My response: Ms. Greco is right;"slip" is good and economical. I'll confess, though, to liking "gingerly extract"; perhaps because I'm fond of ginger beer, which is made with ginger extract.


25-26. The offense: “For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run … I need to expend some of this excess, enervating energy.”

The fix: “For the first time in my life, I voluntarily go for a run … I need to work off some of this excess, enervating energy.”

My response: I agree; "work off" is more vivid.


27-28. The offense: “Shaking my head and endeavoring to quell my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening.”

The fix: “Shaking my head and trying to calm my nerves, I decide on the plum-colored sheath dress for this evening.”

My response: I agree.


29. The offense: “He looks askance at my Beetle, but I ignore him.”

The fix: “He looks disapprovingly at my Beetle, but I ignore him.”

My response: I prefer "askance".


30. The offense: “And that’s not the future he envisages.”

The fix: “And that’s not the future he imagines.”

My response: I agree. "Envisage" is not a word for which I envisage much of a future.


31-32. The offense: “Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of humanity dotted with ubiquitous black and red gowns heading toward the gym.”

The fix: “Ray pulls his car into the campus parking lot, and we follow the stream of people dotted with matching black and red gowns heading toward the gym.”

My response: I agree.


33. The offense: “The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s interminable.”

The fix: “The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It’s never-ending.”

My response: I'm surprised Ms. Greco didn't catch the contradiction here: that the ceremony did conclude means it was neither interminable nor never-ending. I'm happy with either of those, but I'd replace "It's" with "It seemed".


34. The offense: “Christian! I stare up at him, imploring him to refuse.”

The fix: “Christian! I stare up at him begging him to refuse.”

My response: No preference.


35. The offense: “ ‘Anastasia,’ he cajoles. ‘I am sorry. Believe me. I don’t mean to laugh.’”

The fix: Let’s just go with says.

My response: Yeah, let's.


36. The offense: “ ‘I wish you were here,’ I whisper, because I have an urge to hold him. Soothe him. Even though he won’t let me. I want his proximity.”

The fix: “ ‘I wish you were here,’ I whisper, because I have an urge to hold him. Soothe him. Even though he won’t let me. I want him close to me.”

My response: I agree.


37. The offense: “My subconscious nods sagely, a you’ve-finally-worked-it-out-stupid look on her face.”

The fix: Stop personifying your subconscious.

My response: You don't think your subconscious is a person? As they say, you're never alone....


38. The offense: “…I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one’s parents in situ.”

The fix: “…I wonder for a brief moment what it must be like to grow up with both one’s parents at home.”

My response: I agree, reluctantly. I've had a weakness for Latin since my father told me it's a dead language. Is linguistic necrophilia a thing? (Side note: lately, I've seen "Is X a thing?" used instead of "Is there such a thing as X?" I like it.)


39. The offense: “He raises a censorious eyebrow at me.”

The fix: “He raises a disapproving eyebrow at me.”

My response: I like "censorious".


 40. The offense: “My heart is in my mouth as I reread his epistle and I huddle in the spare bed practically hugging my Mac.”

 The fix: “My heart is in my mouth as I reread his e-mail and I huddle in the spare bed practically hugging my Mac.”

My response: I agree. An e-mail is not an epistle. An epistle should be handwritten on parchment.


41-42. The offense: “I gaze at my mom. Her earlier jubilation has metamorphosed into concern.”

The fix: “I gaze at my mom. Her earlier excitement has turned into concern.”

My response: I don't think "jubilation" and "excitement" are exactly synonymous, though Mr. Roget and Ms. Greco may disagree. I'd keep jubilation, but substitute "turned" for "metamorphosed", a word that in recent usage has turned into the more compact "morphed". I still prefer "turned".


43. The offense: “Holy shit … something’s amiss — the strain in his jaw, the anxiety around his eyes.”

The fix: “Holy shit … something’s wrong — the strain in his jaw, the anxiety around his eyes.”

My response: I agree. I think "amiss" is a good word, but it doesn't fit with "Holy shit".


44-46. The offense: “I sit on the barstool, momentarily stupefied, trying to assimilate this morsel of information.”

The fix: “I sit on the barstool, momentarily speechless, trying to absorb this piece of information.”

My response: I think all the offensive words have good uses, but I agree with the changes Ms. Greco suggests.


 47. The offense: “He hits me again, and the pain pulses and echoes along the line of the belt. Holy shit … that smarts.”

The fix: “He hits me again, and the pain pulses and echoes along the line of the belt. Holy shit … that hurts.”

My response: I like "smarts".


 48. The offense: “…scalding tears spill down my cheeks.”

The fix: “…hot tears spill down my cheeks.”

My response: I like "scalding"; it gives it more oomph.


49. The offense: “I just want to curl up. Curl up and recuperate in some way.”

The fix: “I just want to curl up. Curl up and feel better.”

My response: I agree.


50. The offense: “Tears course unbidden and unwelcome down my cheeks…”

The fix: Pick one. And stop crying over this loser.

My response: This is one of those instances in which I think using two near-synonyms for emphasis, especially when they alliterate, is a Good Thing. I agree with the advice in Ms. Greco's second sentence.