Fun and Funner

We had a German exchange student once who kept confusing ‘fun’ and ‘funny.’ He would say, “We played paintball. It was funny,” or, “That was a fun joke.”

It’s funny – not ha-ha, but odd – that these two words behave this way. ‘Fun’ ought to be the noun, and ‘funny’ the adjective – like ‘love’ and ‘lovely,’ or ‘salt’ and ‘salty.’ And yet they can both function as adjectives – with different meanings. ‘Fun’ also works as a noun, but ‘funny’ is stuck with being an adjective.

They come from a common root: ‘fon,’ meaning ‘to befool,’ or ‘a fool.’

Going off in another direction, ‘fon’ is also the root of ‘fond,’ which used to mean ‘foolish.’ It is probably in this sense that Juliet uses the word when she tells Romeo,

“I am too fond; and therefore thou mayst think my ‘havior light.” (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.102) She fears that he may think her frivolous or silly.

Here’s something else that’s funny about ‘fun.’ Most one-syllable adjectives add -er and -est to form their comparative and superlative forms, e.g. cold, colder, coldest. Longer adjectives use ‘more’ and ‘most’ – beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful.

But we don’t say, ‘fun, funner, funnest,’ except informally. Correct usage dictates ‘more fun, most fun.’ (Dax prediction: ‘funner’ and ‘funnest’ will be considered correct within ten years.)

We do say, ‘funny, funnier, funniest.’

Neither ‘fun’ nor ‘funny’ happily takes the adverbial suffix -ly. ‘Funly’ is not a word; though I’ve heard ‘funnily,’ it doesn’t strike my ear right.

And there are the idioms:

‘Making fun’ of someone recalls the obsolete usage – making a fool of someone.

‘Have fun,’ is an odd sort of command. As if fun could be demanded.

‘Fun’ is more versatile than its cousin; it can even be a verb (informally), as in, “I’m just funning you.” (Which must be said with the proper accent: “I’m jess funnin’ ya.”)

Both ‘fun’ and ‘funny’ are subjective concepts. For example, I think it’s fun to look up words, while most people would just find that funny (odd, not ha-ha).

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Nice Story

Every writer knows that choosing the right word is critical. A word that is too odd or inappropriate can jar a reader out of the story, while non-descriptive words can be boring.

One of the most common words by far in English is ‘nice.’

It is common in both senses — ‘widely used’ and ‘ordinary.’ Everybody uses it a lot, but it doesn’t say a lot.

Pleasant? Agreeable? Kind?

An older meaning, which you may sometimes still hear, is ‘exact, precise, or subtle,’ as in: ‘a nice distinction,’ one so subtle that it wouldn’t be very noticeable.

But as it is commonly used today, nice has no ‘nice’ meaning. It means whatever you think it means, or nothing at all, and is used whenever the speaker or writer is too lazy to think of a more descriptive term.

An even older meaning, not seen these days, is ‘fussy or fastidious.’ It is this meaning that Shakespeare intends when he has Friar Lawrence lament, “The letter was not nice, but full of charge.” In other words, it wasn’t just a “Hi, how are you doing?” letter; it was a “Juliet’s not really dead, so don’t kill yourself” kind of letter. Not nice.

Going back further, we find the meaning ‘foolish or ignorant.’ Now we are coming close to the root of the word.

For nice actually is descended from nescius, which in Latin means ‘ignorant.’

To be more precise: a ‘nice’ person is a ‘fool.’

And next time you use the word, will you be precise? Or will you have no idea what you really mean?

Caveat Scriptor

Writer, beware.

One of the things I love most about writing fantasy is world creation, exploring a world where anything can happen — as long as it follows your rules. Fantasy writer Orson Scott Card has explained world-building better than I can, so I will limit my thoughts to word-building — the invention of names.

It was word-building that first dragged me into the messy world of fantasy. Before I ever read Tolkien, I was making up languages and drawing maps. Reading Lord of the Rings was a confirmation of what I already knew: there were other worlds to explore. All I had to do was stick my flag in the ground and start naming things.

In the advertising world, people are paid to make up new words. What they realize (most of the time) is that we are all neck-deep in words these days — slang, product names, new terms for things that didn’t exist an hour ago. On an average day of reading, I may run into half a dozen words I’ve never seen before — because they are so new they haven’t made it into the dictionary.

Usually I just Google unfamiliar words, and most of the time figure out what they mean in the context I’m reading. I also see a lot of things they might mean. When I Google dax, I learn that it may refer to the German stock index (Deutscher Aktien Index), a hair-care company, a character on Star Trek, a company that makes eco-friendly products, a singer, an actor, a really funny guy, and (apparently) a transsexual prostitute.

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NaNoWriMo

I’ve passed 44000 words — I’m not ready to call this the homestretch, but it feels good to have just 6000 to go and 15 days to write them.
What I’ve been thinking about is this: What next?
Writing withdrawal is a definite possibility. After spending every day figuring out my 2000+ words, I will need something to keep me busy. I could do another NaNo, but I’m not sure the intensity of this month can be duplicated without the external structure of a competition.
Bad Habits: I had bad habits before I started NaNo, and they haven’t gone away. Using too many words to say things, abusing adverbs, dialog tags — all these are things I am aware of. I wonder what new flaws I will observe as I re-write this novel?
Good habits: I have disciplined myself, found time in every day to do this task. I have learned to view writing as a task, not waiting for the mood or inspiration to strike. I am my own muse.
Where does this all leave me?
I have a novel that will be finished by Friday, and in need of much revision.
I have a couple of novels in process which can benefit from some disciplined focus and organization.
To be a writer, you have to write. It’s a job. A really great job that hardly pays anything but makes me happy.

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