Thursday, December 3, 2009

O Vocative, Where Art Thou?


By Kelli

"What's the most embarrassing mistake you made in a book that got caught by a sharp eyed reader?"

Ahem. A mortifying topic. And here we are, exposing ourselves in public, admitting that we're actually (gasp) fallible. :) (and Shane, no comments from you or Rebecca about "exposure", OK?)

I recently received a review in an academic newsletter for members of a Classics organization. I'm glad to say it was very positive ... but it did point out an error in the Latin in NOX DORMIENDA.

Y' see, Latin nouns have these things called cases. The cases all have different endings and serve different grammatical functions (the nominative is a noun that's a subject, the accusative is a direct object, etc.). The vocative case is used in direct address: "O Copy Editor, why must thou mess with my words?" That kind of thing.

When I first wrote NOX, I wasn't going to use the vocative form, even in direct address. Then I changed my mind.

Hence, the error. I forgot to change every single instance of direct address to the vocative case, and with second declension masculine nouns ending in -us, that means changing the -us to an "e", and ... and ... hey, wake up out there!


Other things I had to watch out for: the right kind of Latin. Latin changed over the centuries (fancy that!) and the Latin from Plautus' era (you probably know him, even if you haven't heard of him--his plays were the basis for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) was a lot different from Latin in the first century AD. Which was much different than medieval ecclesiastical Latin, etc. I made sure the Latin used was consistent with the era and not too archaic. And of course, there is a lot of Latin profanity in the book, too ...

Now that you know more about an ancient language than you were bargaining for, I hope you'll forgive me for not including quite as much raw Latin in CURSED, the sequel to NOX. Still plenty of pithy epithets and even a phrase from Cicero--cui bono--that has become a staple of criminal investigation techniques everywhere. But honestly ... I don't want to mess with the vocative again.

It could kick Caesar's butt!

P.S. The grammatical construction in "NOX DORMIENDA" is called a passive periphrastic. It takes the noun (NOX, meaning night) and combines it with a gerundive (DORMIENDA--a kind of verbal adjective, that ends in "a" to agree with the feminine gendered NOX). The passive periphrastic connotes obligation or necessity. In this case, it means--literally--a night that must be slept. In other words .... The Big Sleep. :)

17 comments:

Jen Forbus said...

Another thing I would have NEVER caught. Although there is an author who was going to use me in a book, then cut my character at the last minute and forgot to amend one part. So when I finished reading I asked said writer, "I don't understand why this happens at the end." And said writer complimented me on being an astute reader, said none of the early readers caught it, and it was left over from when my character was supposed to exist! Ha! That's what you get for cutting ME!! ;)

Happy Thursday, Kel!

Kelli Stanley said...

Happy Thursday right backatcha, Babe, and thanks! :)

And that should teach anyone not to leave YOU on the cutting room floor!!! ;) Readers don't come more astute than our Jen!!! :)

xoxo

Kelli

Joshua Corin said...

"Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone, a homicide tonight!"

I like it!

Shane Gericke said...

Dang, you never let me have any fun ...

Shane Gericke said...

And Joshua, GREAT little ditty on "homicide tonight." Glad you came aboard our little tuna boat!

R.J. Mangahas said...

Wow. So this is why I didn't take Latin in high school.

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, darlin', note you're the first person I think of when the word "expose" pops up ... ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Josh, you're channeling Zero Mostel again!! ;)

xoxo

Kelli Stanley said...

RJ, Latin is a great foundation for any Romance language, medical or legal studies, and just plain ol' English vocab. :) And it used to be part of the standard British education not too long ago.

I just had to condense a lot of info into one post, but seriously--it's a fun and useful language to learn. And not as difficult as Greek! ;)

xoxo

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

As a recovering linguist, I
1. Loved your post
2. Love my profs for having us study Japanese, Turkish, Djirbil, anything but Latin. I didn't even know what past participle was for, thought it was formal or something. (Also a recovering screenwriter, so this error was never discovered until I switched to fiction)....

All in all, everyone's "errors" seem incredibly minor! Y'all are working hard ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Myst! :)

Language is a wonderful thing--seeing how different cultures communicate sure can open one's mind, can't it? :)

Studying Classics these days means a combination of history, literary theory, cultural analysis, art history, and archaeology--but the bulk of your time and effort is spent in "philology", a nice little word from the Greek that literally means "love of words" ... so all the Criminal Minds are really philologists! :)

Jeannie Holmes said...

Salve, Magister Kelli! (Do I get bonus points for totally understanding your Latin class speech about cases and declensions?)

Great post, dahlin'! I don't have anything to add other than to say, "Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare," and that isn't you, my dear. ;)

Jeannie Holmes said...

Salve, Magister Kelli! (Do I get bonus points for totally understanding your Latin class speech about cases and declensions?)

Great post, dahlin'! I don't have anything to add other than to say, "Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare," and that isn't you, my dear. ;)

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow!! Optime, meae deliciae Jeannie! ;) Not only do you score an A+, but you deserve a crustulum for quoting Cicero! (or, as the British call him, "Tully")! ;)

Tibi gratias multas ago!

xoxo

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Uh oh, Shane! Now Jeannie and Kelli both know Latin and we got reprimanded even before we came up with a dirty joke about exposure. We probably even got reprimanded IN Latin.

And I ain't declaratived that nobody's participle was danglin' out in the cold. But I got accusatived anyway. So much for passive phrasing, eh?

Kelli Stanley said...

No worries, Beckster ... we're all past perfects! ;)

And you speak and read German, so don't hide behind your gerunds! ;)

xoxo

Shane Gericke said...

Rebecca, I think they called us a big stinkin' pile of bat guano, but did it in Latin so we wouldn't catch on. The dirtae raets ...