usingtherightwords

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Playing the Name Game and Getting it Wrong


I end the year with a pet peeve: misusing names.

People deserve to be called what they want to be called. I had a friend named Harry who, for reasons I either never knew or forgot, wanted one day to be called Jason. So, beginning Jan. 1 of 1989, Harry became Jason.

I extend this to literature. An author creates a character and usually gives it a name. So, we call it what the author called it.

But what about when an author does not give it a name? Case in point: the creature in Frankenstein. Go back and read Mary Shelley’s tale and you’ll see that Frankenstein refers to the scientist Victor Frankenstein who creates the nearly eight-feet-tall creature. He is so repulsed by it, he never names it. Instead, he calls it “monster,” “creature,” “devil,” “fiend,” “wretch” and “it.” (The creature, it should be noted, is very intelligent and well-spoken, unlike the green monster we all associate with the character.)

And yet by 1908, 90 years after the book was originally published, American author and editor Rossiter Johnson bemoaned, “It is strange to note how well-nigh universally the term ‘Frankenstein’ is misused, even by intelligent people, as describing some hideous monster.”

Of course, the 1931 film version starring Boris Karloff as the monster had much to do with people getting it wrong. Movie titles such as Bride of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein only further cemented everyone’s misperception that Frankenstein refers to the creation.

I suggest that everyone should make a new year’s resolution to correctly use names.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

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December 31, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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