Yesterday morning I came slowly out of the Land of Nod with a phrase resonating in my head: gaseous as Persephone. I toyed with it a bit, kind of liking the cadence and the classicalness of it. “She sat across the table, lost in the shadows, gaseous as Persephone…” Persephone’s got that whole underworld thing going for her, to boot. (She’s the first snowbird, finding a warmer place to spend winters.)
There’s only one problem with the phrase: it makes no sense whatsoever. Sure, I like imagery and metaphor as much as the next guy (maybe more), but Persephone was never reputed, to the best of my knowledge, to be gaseous. (Gassy, perhaps, if pomegranate seeds cause flatulence, but that’s hardly the image I was shooting for.)
Stooping to using nonsense like that is what we in the business call “putting on airs”, and writers do it all the time. Some are better at it than others; some can even make drivel like that into poetry. Those few only encourage a host of others to try their hands at it, and most of them suck. I’m sure I could go back and find plenty of times I’ve committed this very sin, but this time I managed not to. For that we can all be thankful.
While we’re on the subject, I’ve added a new link over in the “Blogs for Writers” section, to a place called Language Log. Warning: it cost me several hours of my life the other day. It’s a blog by a group of respected linguists across the US, created for non-linguists. Most entries are very interesting and well-written, and some are downright fascinating. The essays about Dan Brown are entertaining, as they look at his use of the English language. Although “gaseous as Persephone” isn’t linguistically horrible (or maybe it is — my ignorance of the field is staggering), I’m sure they would have something to say about it.