Friday, August 27, 2010

I Speak Your Language

In spite of crime-solving TV shows like the CSI series, as a forensic psychiatrist I know that real life is much more mundane. Although I get to interview lots of interesting folks, most of the work involves writing extensive reports (or editing the reports of others). And just when I think I've got my writing skills down pat, a copy editor comes along to prove otherwise.

Dinah, Roy and I spent several hours together this week going over the proof of our book. We reviewed our editor's corrections and quibbled about our own. I discovered that Dinah had learned rules of grammar that I had never heard of, and that some of the truisms I learned no longer applied. Language is like that.

Fortunately, as children we pick up grammar and syntax without any conscious awareness. Certain sentences or phrases just naturely "sound right" because they get built into our brains somehow. We speak the language and vocabulary we hear, and we write the way we speak.

This is a problem when you live in Baltimore. Every day I get exposed to Baltimore urban vernacular. In this city people don't get beaten up, they get "banked." They aren't relaxed and happy, they're "chillin'.'" They aren't merely annoyed, they're angry "for real." And they don't lose their tempers, they "zap out."

In my clinical practice it helps to speak my patients' language. If my patient tells me he "caught a hopper", I know he doesn't like his young and restless cellmate. If he asks me for help with an "8-505", I can explain the legal process for doing this. I am unexpectedly multilingual through the coincidence of where I live and work.

I just have to remember not to write like that or my editor will "zap out for real."

Dinah adds:
OMG! I can't believe we wrote an entire book together and you're still putting the periods outside the quotation marks! Shoot me now. From

Rule 1. Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.
Examples: The sign changed from "Walk," to "Don't Walk," to "Walk" again within 30 seconds.
She said, "Hurry up."
She said, "He said, 'Hurry up.'"


Clink responds:

Life is never that easy. See discussion here and here. Nevertheless, I changed them.