Bearing Souls and Baiting Breath

I’ve been on a reading streak lately, a phenomenon that seems to correlate with a non-writing streak, and I’ve noticed a few mistakes that seem to be slipping through the editing process in a lot of contemporary fiction lately. Some of them are pretty amusing and others are just annoying.

Generally speaking, I don’t mind finding the occasional typo in something I’m reading or a minor story detail, like a character’s eye color being different once; these minor flaws add a little peculiarity to the text and make me feel closer to the author, as if I’m a friend editing a manuscript for him or her.  What’s troubling is the particular trend of the mistakes. I think I’ll start with the one that bothers me most.

Misplaced Adverbs: By misplaced here, I don’t mean that the adverb is in the wrong spot in the sentence, but rather that it is indirectly modifying the wrong noun—sort of. It’s easier to show than explain.  An example of this is the sentence, “ Tears slid heedlessly down her cheeks.” This means that the tears aren’t paying attention while they’re sliding down. Given the context of the situation (the heroine was relating a story and didn’t realize she was crying), the sentence should read, “Tears slid unheeded down her cheeks.” This time it means that she didn’t notice the tears rather than the tears themselves being oblivious.

I’ve seen several variations of this misdirection. Another one made me laugh because of the image that came to mind.  The main character had just said something funny during a tense moment and the secondary character he was with “smiled humorously.”  I got the image of the young man contorting his face into a funny looking grin. The author most definitely didn’t mean that, but it’s what came across.

Misspelled Idioms: I think this one is my favorite, and I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking of scenarios that would make appropriate use of these two commonly mangled idioms.  “She awaited the news with baited breath.” That should read, “bated breath.” Bated is an archaic shortening of “abated” meaning paused.  I do, however, love the idea of baited breath.  The thought that someone’s breath could be the bait in a trap is a bit fascinating.  It begs the questions, “how is that breath so tempting or valuable” and “what on earth would be the trap?”  I’d love to hear some other folks’ ideas on this one.

The other one that gets messed up quite frequently is this: “He was bearing his soul to her and she was looking at him with an indifference crueler than hate.” Yes, this sentence came from a romance novel, and it was a lovely one (though I’ve seen the mistake in books of several different genres).  The idiom should be, “baring his soul,” as in he’s laying bare his secrets and making himself vulnerable.  But bearing a soul? Would that be like a possession, where one soul takes up residency in a body that already has its own? Or would that be physically carrying a soul, and would one need a container for that?

Maybe the baited breath was the lure for the soul that got it trapped in the jar to begin with so that someone could bear it to someone else…

I also recently saw “danger dodged their footsteps,” but I’ve only seen that one once and it might be a typo.  It’s a pretty funny concept though, and quite the opposite of what the writer meant.

As much as I enjoyed some of these errors, they didn’t help the story at all.  I spent rather a lot of time thinking about the words I’d just read, and a lot less time reading. One thing any writer knows is, anything that causes the reader to come out of the story and STOP READING, is a bad thing.

I just hope I’m not making any similarly distracting and hilarious mistakes that I can’t count on my editor to catch.


~ by lamichaud on March 3, 2012.

2 Responses to “Bearing Souls and Baiting Breath”

  1. I remember how a similarly hilarious description (the heroine’s eyebrows rippled in surprise) sent me on a five minute tangent during which I attempted to achieve this anatomical feat. Needless to say, my coworkers became concerned.

  2. I saw this notice on a shop window some years ago. ‘Ears pierced while you wait.’ Hmmm. I would have preferred to leave them there and do the rest of my shopping and collect them later. Ah well…

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