Friday, May 15, 2009

Could’ve, Would of, Shoulda (“Ve” are watching!)

George Pelecanos, Dear Gentle Reader(s), is the newest “old” writer of note to cross this desk.  One down, one in progress, a few to go.  The reason for this post isn’t George so much as his editor and some other editor of years past which let the –of pass as indicator of character instead of insisting on ‘ve.

The writer, naturally, tries for some sort of verisimilitude while writing dialogue.  Even the perfect sentences of Jane Austen take on “color” when delivering language of certain characters.

The use of could of, however, is suspect as a genuine replication of non-standard articulation.  The f and the v are both fricatives.  They are produced by passing air between the upper front teeth and the bottom lip, the difference is that the v uses a sound from the larynx along with the friction of air.

Thus, the author who uses could of might as well be using could’ve.  The resulting sound is exactly the same—of has the pronunciation of ‘ve no matter the education of the speaker.  The more precise effect of character indication would be achieved, if articulation is to be used as an indication of character, by the use of coulda—or its almost as popular variation—could-a.

In Pelecano’s case, the editor of The Big Blowdown allowed, on page 289, a “could of" in mid-page and then, a couple of (coupla?) lines down, a “could’ve.”  Hedging a bet?  Indifference?  Not paying attention to speech patterns? 

Somebody got paid nice bucks to edit the book, not to mention the author’s royalty.  That’s good money in exchange for…what?  This error cannot be let pass unchallenged.  Therefore, aspiring authors and editors, be warned:  The “ve” patrol is on alert.

(OK, so this is a nit.  In these times, though, focusing on a nit or two is a valuable tool in averting meltdown.)

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