I read once, that the mystery novelist John Dickson Carr (aka Carter Dickson), has a sign above his desk that reads, “Weird Villain Liaison” because he habitually misspells those three words when he writes. I don’t have any habitual misspellings, but sometimes I’ll use a simple word, like “fork,” and it just looks wrong. Is it a sign of early dementia when basic pattern recognition fails to work, or just a symptom of being a bit distracted, having a mind that’s racing in several different directions at once? (For that matter, doesn’t that rather describe dementia in it’s non-clinical form?)
Words, not specific words, but the spelling and choosing of them, have been catching my eye this past week, as I’ve been having a feast of Laurie R. King novels. For the unfamiliar, she writes a series about a “retired” Sherlock Holmes and his young American-born protege-cum-spouse, Mary Russell. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Holmes’s adventures ever since I first came upon The Hound of the Baskervilles when I was quite young, and it’s a love affair that was only enhanced by the performance of the late Jeremy Brett in the PBS/Granada TV series from the eighties. (When I later found out that Brett played Freddie in the movie of My Fair Lady I thought it was cool that two of my favorite things – mysteries and musicals – had a connection.) As I grew older, my taste in things Sherlockian expanded to include some very cool pastiches, like The Seven Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer (the movie, however, was awful), and even some rather obscure fanfic that I picked up at a Star Trek convention once when I was nineteen.
But I digress.
It’s not the plots or the characters that are catching my attention at this moment (though, be assured, they are grippng when I am actually reading), as much as it is Ms. King’s use of Conan Doyle-esque style. All those fussy Victorian spellings are there, like “phantasy” instead of “fantasy,” and “connexion” for “connection” but the dialogue is a mix of British and American English, and while it can be jarring, at times, because otherwise the Mary Russell character feels like she was a member of Holmes’ universe from the start, it’s at least well-done, and reminds us that Russell is supposed to be from San Francisco.
Elsewhere on the word front, not recently read, but recalled from childhood, are Ogden Nash (I grew up being madly in love with the story of Belinda and her “really-o truly-o little pet dragon.”) even if he did resort to puns all too often, and Poe, through whom I met and fell in love with the word, “tintinnabulation,” as well as the concept of onomatopoeia, you know, those words that sound like what they mean, i.e. “squish,” “bang,” “crack,” and “slap”.
Words are my drug of choice, these days, chosen even over caffeine.
Is it any surprise when I tell you my favorite games are Balderdash and Scrabble?
Words by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.