07 February 2015

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen . . .

by John M. Floyd

Pet peeve: a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly annoying to himself, to a greater degree than others may find it. (Wikipedia)

All editors, publishers, and agents have pet peeves. When we're lucky, we as writers find out about these things somewhere along the way, and try to avoid using or causing them. When we're unlucky, we don't find out, and in that case they almost certainly contribute to the some of the rejections we receive when we submit manuscripts to these mysteriously aggravated editors/publishers/agents.

When I began writing today's column, I intended to stick to those things that annoy these editorial decision-makers--this is, after all, a blog about writing--but the more I thought about it I decided I wanted to talk about more than just that. Although I am indeed a writer, my own pet peeves extend to other areas of my life as well: things that I read, see, and hear, every day of the world.

Here are a few that make me grind my teeth: 

The spoken word

People who constantly say "You know what I'm saying." You know what I'm saying?

People who talk during a movie. I can't think of a better use for stun guns.

The overuse of "awesome." The Grand Canyon is awesome. The Twilight series isn't.

The overuse of "amazing." Be honest. Unless you're Lois Lane, your boyfriend is NOT amazing.

The overuse of "all about." I heard a politician on TV the other night say he was all about the economy. Arrrgh.

The misuse of "like." She was like, "Seriously?" And I was like, "Totally."

Air quotes. Okay, bub, put those fingers away unless you intend to use them.

Using certain nouns as verbs (let's meet and fellowship, I'll gift my wife with flowers, we should dialogue about that). Don't do this.

Our players always deliver 110%. Gosh--I wasn't even aware that one could deliver more than 100%.

The mispronunciation of "short-lived." The "lived" should have a long i, as in "arrive"--not a short i, as in "give." The storm was short-lived because it had a short life, not a short lif.

People who talk on cell phones in waiting rooms, restaurants, checkout lines, etc. Enough said.

- The incorrect use of "I" instead of "me." This really bugs my editor and I.

Everyday life

Drug ads on TV that list a hundred terrifying side effects. After listening, why would anyone take these medications? For that matter, if your doctor is competent, why should you have to tell him what he should prescribe to treat your condition?

- "Teasers" during otherwise professional news broadcasts. Coming up after the break, on Nightly News: You won't believe what Miley does in this next video . . .

People who are rude to waitresses. Guess what you're getting on your salad today, sir.

Telemarketers. If I ever meet them in person, Heaven help Rachel at Cardmember Services and William at Great Vacations.

Tennis players who grunt every time they hit the ball. I once heard this from the other room and thought Planet of the Apes was on. The MUTE button helps, but still.

People who park their cars across two spaces. I've heard the cure is to park two cars alongside the space-hog, leaving him about an inch of clearance on both sides.

People who bend their arms high and pump them furiously back and forth when they walk. This might be good exercise, but one should try to maintain at least some measure of dignity in life.

Too much perfume. Get back, get back--give him some air!

People who can't stop checking/playing with their cell phones. Hey, remember me? I'm sitting right here. (I heard last night on NPR that this is called "phunning"--shunning others with your phone.)

Movie sequels. Let's face it: Terminator 2Star Trek II, AliensThe Dark KnightThe Road Warrior, and The Godfather: Part II were the only ones that were better than their predecessors.

Black shoelaces on black sneakers. They're hard to see when you try to tie your shoes.

Not enough legroom in cars, theatres, airplanes, etc. Not everyone is average height.

Cashiers who give you your change with the coins on top of the bills. How many times have you spilled everything while trying to put it into your purse or wallet?

The writing life

Its vs. it's. This one just isn't that hard--and editors expect you to know the difference.

Possessive vs. plural. If your characters are Mr. and Mrs. Baker, the name on their mailbox should say THE BAKERS, not THE BAKER'S. Even though the mailbox belongs to a Baker.

People who turn down the corner of a page as a bookmark. Don't make me come over there and throw you out of the library . . .

- The overuse of exclamation points!

- Misplaced modifiers. We make combs for people with unbreakable teeth.

Your vs. you're. Good grief.

The incorrect punctuation of "y'all." We who live in the south see this a lot.

Readers who sneak a look at the ending of a story or book. Yes, I'm told these people do exist.

Dumb-looking photos/illustrations of hunky guys on the covers of romance novels. See above: Even we authors should strive for some level of dignity.

People who say, "You know, I'd write a book, if only I had the time." Right.

The misuse of "ironically" and "literally." It's not ironic that your character was late for a meeting because she ran into a pothole, unless the meeting was about highway improvements. And the mishap did not--unless the pavement caved in on top of her--literally put her between a rock and a hard place.

- The overuse of adjectives. He drove his old blue rusted-out pickup truck down the hot, dry, rough, dusty road.

- The overuse of adverbs. He stomped heavily on the brake, slowly cranked the window down, stared blearily at the patrolman, and finally said, "I'm disgustingly drunk."

Too-long bios. Authors who put the longest bios on their book jackets (and in their query/cover letters) always seem to be the ones who have accomplished the least.

The overuse of substitutes for "said." "Why?" he queried. "Why not?" she retorted. "Because," he declared. "Okay," she agreed.

Blog columns that talk about pet peeves. I mean, really, who cares?

Nonexistent aggravations

Oddly enough, some of the things that seem to run other people crazy don't bother me:

Babies who cry in public places. No worries. It's one of those things I can just tune out.

Shortened words: tote, limo, tux, fax, mayo, etc. Why not?

Squeaky, unoiled chains on a porch swing. I think the sound is kind of rhythmic and soothing.

Allowing food on one side of your plate to get mixed up with food on the other side. So what? It's all going to get mixed up soon anyhow.

People who go around whistling or singing all the time. I believe we could use more of that kind of thing.

Watching a ballgame on TV without sound. Who needs an announcer to tell you what just happened on the field?

Combined but unhyphenated words: handpicked, superheated, cardplayer, smartphone, doublewide, etc. Again, why not?

- Comma splices, split infinitives, sentence fragments, etc. To use these is to boldly go where my English prof wouldn't--but in fiction, I love 'em.

Overuse of movie quotes. To me, it's hard to overuse anything involving movies.

Okay, that's it. Literally. Ya'll know what I'm saying?

Its ironic, but now I'm like, "What are YOU'RE pet peeves?" 


  1. John, I agree with all you mentioned, but I want to add one. Adult college grads who decide to write and want me to edit. I refuse to edit, but I will proofread, supposedly for typos. When I find your for you're, its for it's, the ever present apostrophe to create plurals, I tell the writer he/she needs to implement acceptable grammar if an editor is expected to take their work seriously. My peeve is when the person says, "I didn't major in English,you know." My reply used to be, "These are things taught in fourth grade!" That's what I used to say, now I'm getting older and crotchety and I simply refuse to proofread for others.

  2. Fran, I usually tell aspiring writers that if I, who was an engineering major, can handle grammar, they should be able to as well. As for editing/proofreading the work of others, I still do that, but--as you said--it's getting easier, as I get older, to say no.

    One grammar peeve I didn't mention was "everybody does their own thing." I don't like that one, but I've heard it's been misused so often it's become acceptable.

  3. I know someone who says about anything and everything that's even remotely bad, "That's so tragic." Listen, if everything's tragic, nothing is tragic. Just as if everything's wonderful, nothing is wonderful. Sheesh. Get a range, people!

  4. John, your response to my comment brought to mind another response I've received when pointing out blatant errors: "That's my style."

  5. Eve, I guess that's the opposite of "awesome."

  6. Fran, Fred Astaire once said that if you make enough of the same mistakes long enough, people will consider it your style. (But I assume he was talking about dancing and not writing.)

  7. Several years ago my sons discovered the word "heinous." It immediately began to propagate into their household conversation faster than measles in Disneyland. After a couple weeks my wife and I had to lay down a rule barring it completely from all conversations within our four walls. (I thought about putting an exclamation point there but then thought better of it.)

  8. Dale, I think the only times I've seen "heinous" used was in connection with "crimes," so that's appropriate to this blog. Kids do indeed pick up on these new words and run you crazy with them.

    I wish I had thought better of using exclamation points in some of my early stories . . .

  9. Pets Peave: Writer's what doesnt poorfreed there manuskipts b4 sumbitting thems.

  10. Michael, I cuddn't agree moor.

  11. Your list of pet peeves could easily be mine. I could add one or two. "I could care less". "S/he goes"

    One other movie with the sequel better than the original: A Shot In The Dark.

  12. Herschel, you're right--It was far better than The Pink Panther. Another one that I forgot to mention (maybe because it doesn't "seem" like a sequel) is The Silence of the Lambs.

    I never quite figured out why "I couldn't care less" became "I could care less." One of the mysteries of the universe.

  13. My pet peeve is you got to doing this post on pet peeves before I even thought of it! Great topic. Had to use the exclamation mark. I consider it bling, like rhinestones and sequins.


  14. I never quite figured out why "I couldn't care less" became "I could care less." One of the mysteries of the universe.

    I believe it's derived from the complete sentence, which I'm sure reads something akin to: "Like I could care less, dude!" LOL


  15. I bet you're right, Dix.

    Melodie, "bling" is a good word to describe exclamation points/marks. I think it was Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots and Leaves) who said an exclamation point "shouts, flashes like neon, and jumps up and down," and F. Scott Fitzgerald said they "are like laughing at your own jokes."

  16. Great stuff. My addition: "Share" means "divide among." The only way to "share information" is to give some to him and some to her.

    By the way, your title reminded me of one of my favorite CD titles. Spider John Koerner;s NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I'VE BEEN.

  17. Delightful column. BTW, in it you use an expression I've never heard before. "Run you crazy" - is that a Southern American idiom? Sounds good to my ear, but so unfamiliar. (I'm from way North.)

  18. Good one, Rob. These days folks are always being asked to stand up before the group and "share." (I think these are often the same people who "fellowship" afterward.)

    Thanks, Julia. As for things that "run me crazy," I've never thought about that! I've heard, and used, the expression a thousand times, but never considered it a southernism. It'd probably be more correct to say things that "drive" me crazy. Either way, they really do.

  19. Amen! Right on! I agree!! We watch some of those nostalgia channels on TV, and the ads seem to all be about our impending deaths. I have been to funerals that were less pessimistic! As for tennis, I saw a female player (live) swing and make a sound like the incredible Hulk using the toilet. (I'm not sure how I feel about blog posts about lists but I read them!)

  20. Thanks, Jeff! Glad to hear somebody else hates that kind of thing. Misery loves company . . .

  21. John, I could swear you’ve been peeking at my list, although I usually get the lived thing wrong.

    When The 300 came out, I went with friends to see it. Two macho guys on opposite sides of the theatre shouted comments back and forth. After 30 minutes of this with no end in sight (or hearing), I exploded. I spun around and said “Shut the ƒ up,” seriously risking getting my butt kicked when I realized there were more than two. Fortunately, the until-then passive audience broke into applause and they really did shut up.

    Interesting tidbit I learned from a family populated with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. Doctors know little more about drugs than what you see in advertisements. If you want the real dope (so to speak), ask a pharmacist. He knows what your physician doesn’t.

    What you suggest about cars that hog two spaces, I did exactly that in my consulting days when arriving late one night at my hotel when the parking lot was full. Some fool had parked his car along the dividing line. I wouldn’t have bothered, but there was no other place to park. I slid in leaving a centimeter gap and went to bed. At some early hour (those who know me are thinking before noon) my phone rang; the management insisted I move my car, which, interestingly enough, was correctly parked between the lines. I’m afraid I took my time pulling on clothes… just a little slowly, not a lot.

    I don’t begrudge the ladies their romance covers although it makes me feel so… dirty… and used… and objectified… like a hunk… of meat.

    Whistling and singing is charming to me, but I confess I don’t like mixing foods together. You can unnerve my tastebuds by slopping *real* (or artificial, God forbid) maple syrup over sausage, bacon, hash-browns, and anything other than waffles or pancakes like it’s a Cub Scout outing gone wrong.

    Unhyphenated words are too Germanic for me. Website drives me crazy.

    But wait! Spiderman is amazing!

  22. Leigh, good for you (!) at the movie theatre, and in the parking lot too. I love both those stories. In the words of Bonnie Parker, You done good, Clyde. And don't misunderstand: I'm not offended by those romance-novel covers; I think they're just plain silly.

    I too have a family full of doctors and nurses, so you see which way I'm leaning, on the tell-your-doc-what-you-need-prescribed issue. As for those unhyphenated words--I find them heartwarming, straightforward, and supersatisfying. Even website doesn't bother me.

    By the way, I've heard that the use of the short i in short-lived is used so often it's become acceptable--I just think pronouncing it with the long i sounds more "right."

    To Melodie: I hope you WILL do a column on this kind of thing--I'm sure it'll turn out better than mine. Come to think of it, your pet peeve that I did it first isn't a pet peeve--it's just a peeve.

    Thanks to all for your comments!!

  23. Sometime when I'm in a mood and a cashier puts change on top of my bills, I turn my hand over and let the change fall all over the counter, smile sweetly and say "I don't think that's how you learned to do it in cashier school, was it?"
    Of course, they look at me like I'm nuts. I don't think they teach the proper way to hand back change anymore. i also agree with your list.

  24. Jan, that always PUTS me in a mood. The truth is, I think they're probably taught that that IS the proper way to hand back change--but it doesn't mean I have to like it. Compounding the problem is the fact that I'm probably clumsier than most folks.

  25. John, I was just reading an article talking about poor 'recordkeeping' by a nuclear manufacturer. I realized my main objection to what I think of as 'Germanic' conglomerated words is that my eye stops to pick apart the compound word. My reading comes to a halt.

    That said, I recall an article that talked about how compound words are created. The article said originally people would use two words such as 'on line', but as use continued for a common term, like them with a hyphen, 'on-line', and as this formed a unique 'thing', the word would become 'online'. (I looked up 'on line' at one time to find the then dictionary spelling was 'on-line', but now I see in the OED that on-line now links to 'online'!)

  26. Leigh -- Yep, one of the first examples to come to mind, in these combined-word discussions, is often on line/on-line/online. You and I have seen this one up close, of course, during our computer careers, and there seem to be a lot of instances of this kind of language-evolution.

    I remember Stephen King using the word "bluejeans" in one of his novels. That's a combination I'd never seen before and haven't since, but far be it from me to criticize the Kingster.


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