How BuzzFeed copy editor made me excited about writing

Book: A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age" by Emmy Favila
“A World Without Whom” by BuzzFeed’s Emmy Favila offers great insight into the English language and offers writers and the general public freedom to express themselves.

 

I have been reading the book A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in our Buzzfeed Age by Buzzfeed’s Copy Editor, Emmy Favilla. While it took me a while to read it (an understatement, to tell you the truth), I loved it. It made me even more excited about getting into the field of professional writing.

The book went through some history of the English language and what linguists had to say. Then it focused on how rapidly language is changing, especially in the age of the internet and social media (I thought about writing ‘Internet’, just then. That was one of the debates Favilla wrote about in the book. I’ll stick with ‘i’, I think).

Basically, there are a few rules, only preferences. Sure it has to make sense and no writer should be making typos right, left or centre if they’re serious and not a maniac (myself included). Consistency is key.

Of course, there are social norms one should consider, like inclusive language. I think Favilla went into overkill with this. Here’s the thing: I believe that if someone requests to be preferred to by a specific pronoun, including “they” or “ze”, by all means refer to the person by that pronoun. I don’t think you necessarily have to ‘eliminate’ gender altogether. If you really don’t know, then, if you can ask. In  a rare case, use gender neutral, but I don’t think you need to go overboard with it.

Another pet peeve I discovered I have while reading the book is drawn out sentences. I  realised this at the start. Hey, that’s fine for Favilla, I’m not knocking that. I just prefer shorter sentences— less than twenty – five words preferably. Definitely no more than thirty.

That aside, it was exciting to read about the evolution of the English language. I loved reading about the emoticons, and how far back they went, (right back to the 1980’s, apparently). Also, there’s debate about whether one of Abraham Lincoln’s written speeches included typos or a deliberate emoticon. In regard to emojis, I nominate the Ancient Egyptians as being the first to use them. 😛

Screenshot of hieroglyphs and emojis
Screenshot: Things have gone full circle over the past 4,000 years.

 

While language, particularly grammar has become a lot more relaxed over the years, Favila emphasised the need for the need for inclusive language and the importance in using appropriate terms for one’ gender or racial identity (particularly indigenous groups around the world). I’ll put my two cents in when it comes to gender: I believe you should refer to someone by the pronouns that a person prefers (including ‘they’ and ‘ze’/ ‘zir’).  Should it be something that a writer or anyone else needs to tie themselves in knots over with everyone they meet? No. I fear that we are making things too complicated. Be courteous. If you are asked to refer to someone using certain pronouns, use them. If not, my guess is what you see is what you get.

Another thing I found fascinating was the differences in British/ Australian and American English. Of course, there’s colour/ color, favour/ favor and Imperial vs Metric measurements (miles vs kilometres, etc). However, I didn’t know that the US has slightly different use of swear words and their offense levels than the UK and Australia. Who knew? (P.S. I’m not giving any examples here. Google them for yourself if you want to know).

A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age was a great read and offered great insights in the English language. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in language or it’s evolution.

Have you read A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age? What did you think? Leave your thoughts below.

 

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‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ – a great end to a great series

Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The last book of the Harry Potter series. A fine ending to the series.

I finally finished the seventh Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was great. A fine end to what was overall a great series.

I started reading Harry Potter when I was about eleven. I got the first book either for Christmas or my birthday (can’t remember exactly. And I might have been twelve when I read it). It was like nothing I’ve read or (later in the movie), seen before.

It had a strong story line and characters. It was sad in parts. I cried when Harry Potter saw his parents in the Erised mirror in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone movie.

I thought the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was better than the first. It had a great plot, and gave good context to the origin of Hogwarts, the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry and Ron turn out to be more mischievous.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
2nd Harry Potter book

 

I won’t go through the whole series. You can read them for yourself, if you haven’t already. What I will say is that, what the whole series did really well is revealing the true colours of characters. And often, it wasn’t obvious at the start: for example, Sirius Black (Prisoner of Azkaban) was not a wanted criminal, but a man who was falsely accused of being a Death Eater and Harry’s godfather, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, celebrity and fraud who stole credit for other people’s achievements (Chamber of Secrets) and, of course, the revealing of Tom Riddle’s real identity – Lord Voldemort (a.k.a “He Who Must Not Be Named’).

I’ve got to say, my least favourite of the books and movies was the sixth one, Harry Potter and the Half – Blood Prince. It started off alright, with the revealing that Professor Snape was a Death Eater, but by the second half, I though the story fell a bit flat. The movie just went on for too long and there were moments in the film that I thought were unnecessary. This turned me off Harry Potter for a while.

However, I’m glad I finally did read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It took me over a month, but I got there (it was nice reading an actual paperback book, too, rather than a digital one). Rowling could not have finished the series any stronger if she tried.

Interesting things I’ve realised while reading the ‘Deathly Hallows’

When I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I realsed things throughout the series that I hadn’t noticed before. There are quite a few historical references (in characters’ names mainly), and strong social and political themes.

Historical names

Minerva McGonagall: Minerva,was of course the ancient Roman goddess of wisdom, intellect, arts and war. She did seems wise, I guess. I wonder if that was deliberate.

Another ancient Roman reference is the name of Professor Remus Lupin. Remus was believed to be a demigod; son of Mars, who along with his twin brother Romulus founded Rome. Remus ended up being murdered in a bitter dispute with Romulus, who ended up naming the city.

Does anyone know exactly why Rowling used references to ancient Roman mythology?

Social issues

If you look closely, there are a number of social and political themes in Harry Potter. The main one, at least I picked up on, is discrimination. That is first evident in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Draco Malfoy calls Hermione Granger a “Mudblood”; an offensive term used against those who weren’t born into a “pure blood” wizard/ witch family. The level of hatred toward non – Magic (Muggle) or mixed families becomes much more explicit in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Voldemort and his followers attempt to weed out non – pure blood witches, wizards and Muggles (non – Magical people).

Not only is there implicit and explicit discrimination in the wizard and non – wizard world, but there is also historical tension between wizards and goblins. In the Deathly Hallows this is revealed by Griphook’s lack of trust towards Harry, Hermione and Ron (Weasley), which prevents him from allowing them access to Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

The importance of friendship is also prominent in all the Harry Potter books and movies. Harry learns to allow his friends to help him when he needs it. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Dumbledore admonishes Harry to allow Ron and Hermione know what’s troubling him. In the Deathly Hallows, Neville Longbottom pleads with Harry to allow him to help him defeat Voldemort.

 

Harry Potter is undoubtedly one of the greatest fiction series, at least in the past ten years. I doubt that such creativity and success will be reciprocated any time soon. I’m glad I’ve gone through the Harry Potter journey.

Have you read all the Harry Potter books or seen the movies? What’s your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.