May 28th, 2010

Vocabulary Rant: Romance Edition

My dark secret: I proofread romance novels (and other varieties of genre fiction, but mainly romance) for four years. I learned a lot lot lot about grammar, style, usage, and regional dialects, and a not inconsiderable amount about plot structure and pacing. But I also got driven mad by a lot of small errors that, if you saw them only once in a while, would not even register. I saw certain things a lot, to the point that 5 years later I still have Vietnam-style flashback and get upset all over again. Today is one of those days, brought on perhaps by marking student fiction that echoes some of these concerns. I know that the Rose-coloured readers are mainly not romance writers or teenagers, but I have no one else to rant at. Most of these are anatomy-oriented, for obvious reasons. Please bear with me (or chime in!)

The muscle in the front of the arm is spelled biceps whether it is singular or plural. There is no such thing as a “bicep.” Ditto triceps.

The word prone means to lie facedown on the ground/floor/bed. I think some people have conflated this meaning with the other one, when “prone” is used in combination with “to”, to mean “inclined to or liable” to somehow mean vulnerable. “She was lying prone, gazing at the ceiling,” is physically impossible, even if it sounds nice. The word for lying on one’s back is supine, which some think sounds pretentious. Which it does; I like “she was lying on her back,” myself.

People have two clavicles, also referred to as the collarbones. Each one joins its respective arm to your torso. They are not one bone–there is a space between them, that I just found out is called the jugular notch (which does not adequately articulate how adorable I find that spot, but whatever). I realize even as I type this that I sound like an anal-retentive lunatic, but it actually bothers me when I read “He ran his finger all along her collarbone, from her right shoulder to her left.”

Final rant: eyes can’t be graceful, hair can’t be dynamic, and perhaps sex could be elegant but I hope not; just because an adjective is generally positive doesn’t mean it applies to anything positive. End rant.

6 Responses to “Vocabulary Rant: Romance Edition”

  • Phil says:

    I am only commenting because I want you to be happy! It was nice, becoming a linguist and thus less annoyed at people using things wrong. (Though the linguist’s outlook sometimes leads to being annoyed at people being annoyed at people who use things ‘wrong’.)

    Anyway, as an editor of hundreds of romance novels by dozens of authors, you have the rare ability to know from experience what isn’t really wrong anymore, or what probably won’t be wrong in a few years. If you saw the back-formation of bicep from dozens of writers, you saw the future! If I happened to see the word bicep before seeing this post, I wouldn’t know if it was the future or anatomical ignorance or just at typo.

    And frankly, I wouldn’t know that it was a mistake at all, not knowing before reading this post that I only had one biceps in each arm. I also didn’t realize that I don’t have two clavicles and one collarbone. Still, I would encourage you to try not to get to annoyed about people knowing only the way that non-specialists use these words, for fear that it might lead to you getting angry when someone calls an apple a fruit.

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the kind comment, Phil–AMT has tried to calm me down on this stuff too, but it’s tough. Becoming a copyeditor is kinda the opposite of becoming a linguist–you train to get *more* annoyed by errors, because if you are annoyed by them you won’t miss them and get fired.

    But then you become, er, calcified. I totally take your point about bicep/s–everyone knows what is meant no matter how it is spelled. And in most contexts, ditto clavicle/s. Where it would matter one or two, it would likely be a medical context where people wouldn’t get it wrong. But I’m going to stand firm on prone/supine, as there is (literally) 180 degrees difference in meaning, and if you mean one and say the other, it can be utterly baffling. I can’t see how the language is evolving on that one, except maybe towards no one using either of those words anymore!! But, again, I might be too intractable to judge.

    Ok, I’ll bite: what *is* an apple?

  • Scott Watson says:

    This is why I only help the books get shipped and don’t read them. :)

    What is the word for eyes that move in random and awkward motions?

    Dynamic hair would be moving hair right, like a Gorgon or the super heroine Medusa?

    being prone adds four to the target number to hit you. :)

  • Rebecca says:


    1) darting?
    2) Yes, that would work–but doesn’t come up very often.
    3) Is that a video game reference???

    Hope you are well!

  • Scott Watson says:

    1. I guess darting would work, I was thinking something more random (blind darting?)

    2. Unless you’re a comic book fan

    3. pen and paper roleplaying reference actually. :)

  • Philip says:

    My fruit knowledge comes from a combination of wikipedia and Cracked Magazine, so don’t count me as an expert, but apparently the technical botany definition of a fruit is something like the ovaries of a flowering plant that have developed from the flower. The part of the apple we eat isn’t part of the ovary – the core of an apple is the fruit. The stuff we eat is… I don’t know, accessory fruit? Or the apple itself is an accessory fruit? Time to talk to a real botanist.

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