Review: Fiend by Peter Stenson


Fiend
by Peter Stenson is an amazingly creative novel. In it, he manages not only to add energy to the popular zombie narrative with chilling details (like the eerie laughter they emit while hunting) but shows us a really engaging portrait of addiction. The entire work is an allegorical portrayal of the author’s inner life, but in my opinion it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Instead, it feels like an honest portrayal of the verdict when an addict asked himself “What would happen if I was alone with my meth?”

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Prescriptivism Blows!

Reddit is not the classiest place on the internet, partly because every argument tends to devolve into ad hominem attacks about the other person’s grammar. This may surprise you coming from a researcher and writer, but this habit is completely ridiculous. It doesn’t improve anyone’s opinion of your intelligence, nor does it give you some sort of objective upper hand.

From a linguistics perspective, “correctness” is not an issue. Linguistics focuses on descriptive studies of language, which means they just document what’s there; how language is really being used by its native speakers. The opposite, championed by English teachers and Redditors, is called prescriptive grammar, and academics today don’t spend nearly as much time as they used to nitpicking the general usage of English.

From a writing perspective, there are many reasons to use “proper” grammar and there are many reasons not to. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve with your writing piece. For example, maybe you are writing a scholarly paper and want its style to match other similar works. On the other hand, maybe you are J.K. Rowling finding a voice for Hagrid’s dialogue, who wouldn’t have been so lovely a character if his speech patterns matched Mrs. Dursley’s. I’m not saying that we should toss out all conventions, because readability is still the number one priority. I am saying that every rule bends, and there is a time and a place to apply them.

This is not to mention that the propriety of writing and speaking conventions often comes from the racist and sexist ideas ingrained in our culture. African American Vernacular English (known sometimes as Ebonics but I believe that term has fallen out of favor) is unacceptable in formal and professional spaces. Why? Racism. Black people have been systematically removed from and denied access to academic spaces and therefore have had very little power over how ‘scholarly’ language has formed. And when they don’t speak like the general culture expects them to, they are ridiculed. Why do we constantly tease people for speaking like teenage girls? Sexism. We don’t value young girls as more than sex objects, and after teaching them to ‘hedge’ their words to avoid getting called ‘bitchy,’ we make fun of them for how they speak.

Language is a treasure in all its forms, and while I may give off a distinctly Hermione-Granger-like first impression, I wanted to make it clear that all varieties of English are welcome here, and will not be judged. I’d say that all varieties of all languages are welcome, but I don’t speak any others very well!

For further reading about hedging and sexism, check out this blog post from Experiences with Language.

15 Choice ‘Depraved and Insulting’ Words

Depraved and Insulting English. Peter Novobatzky and Ammon Shea, 2001.

This is one of those books that I wish I could pour directly into my brain, but due to its slightly cumbersome dictionary-style format, it seems almost impossible to shove so many useful words into one’s vocabulary without group study sessions. If you have the desire to arrange one, however, please invite me!

A warning: if you are sensitive to uncritical sexism, ableism, homophobia, or transphobia, you may want to steer clear of this book: it certainly keeps its promise to “offend.” The words I have compiled here don’t, as far as I can tell, fall into any of these categories, so this post should be safe!

aerocolpos: (n) vaginal flatulence; air or gas trapped in the vagina

barkled: (adj) encrusted with dirt; used especially to describe a person’s skin

catarolysis: (n) the practice of cursing to let off steam

dysania: (n) difficulty getting out of bed in the morning

eisegetical: (adj) marked by a distorted explanation of text– especially Biblical text– to fit the meaning to preconceived notions

epicaricacy: (n) pleasure from the misfortunes of others

gound: (n) the crusty yellow substance that collects in the corners of one’s eyes while one sleeps

misologist: (n) one with a hatred of mental activity

potvaliant: (adj) bold or brave when drunk; more inclined to fight when inebriated

seeksorrow: (n) one who seeks to give himself vexation

sialoquent: (adj) apt to spray saliva when speaking

snurt: (v) to eject mucus from the nose when sneezing

spuddle: (v) to attend to trifling matters as though they were of the greatest importance

swedge: (v) to leave without paying one’s bill

verbigerator: (n) one who senselessly repeats cliches

I am so happy to have found the word “gound,” since my linguist friend and I were recently talking about geographical preferences for the name of that substance, and had no idea what it was actually called!