I recently came across the word “overslaughing” in a biography about Union Army General George H. Thomas. It was contained in a passage from an excerpt from a letter General Thomas wrote in 1862 regarding being passed over for the command of an army.
The passage in question read: “Although I do not claim for myself any superior ability, yet feeling conscious that no just cause exists for overslaughing me [Emp. added] by placing me under my junior, I feel deeply mortified and aggrieved at the action taken in this matter.”1
Curious, I looked this word up. I discovered that “overslaughing” was a variation on the word “overslaugh,” which meant:
1. (Military) military the passing over of one duty for another that takes precedence
2. (tr) US to pass over; ignore.” 2
I cannot see what use it might have in writing today, outside of military circles, or in writing about promotions in an army. It would be a good word to use if you have a character in a Civil War novel who is serving as a Rebel or a Yankee officer, however. “How could they overslaugh me for Jones?” He could say.
Robert P. Broadwater, General George H. Thomas: A Biography of the Union’s “Rock of Chickamauga” (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009), 90
In a recent comment I made on a Bubblews post I used the word “innocuous.” What does this word mean? Let’s consult our handy dictionary:
“1. Having no adverse effect; harmless.
2. Not likely to offend or provoke to strong emotion; insipid.” 1
How did I use this word in my Bubblews comment? Since the post I commented on dealt with one man killing another man over a TV remote, I wrote: “That’s crazy. I’m sorry to hear such an innocuous thing led to murder.” 2 For what more “harmless” an object could there be than a TV remote?
You could also use this word in something like “The farm looked innocuous to the advancing troops until sniper fire came from the barn.” Or “The dog looked fierce, but an innocuous glint in her eyes revealed otherwise about her nature.” Or “He gave the guards an innocuous look before they left his cell.”
“Flisibuster! Filisbuster!” Melville Crump (Sid Caesar) taunts Dingy Bell (Mickey Rooney) and Benjy Benjay (Buddy Hackett) after chartering the only plane at an airfield in the movie It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Why was Crump using that word to taunt Bell and Benjay? Let’s see what it means:
“1.a. The use of obstructionist tactics, especially prolonged speechmaking, for the purpose of delaying legislative action.
b. An instance of the use of this delaying tactic.
2. An adventurer who engages in a private military action in a foreign country.” 1
Crump was probably using “filibuster” as a sophisticated way to taunt Bell and Benjay on how delayed they now were in finding a rapid means of getting to the place a lot of money buried “under a big W” was located. Kudos to the scriptwriters for choosing such an interesting word for Crump to use in this scene from It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World
Should you use “gray” or “grey” when describing the color? “Grey” is the United Kingdom-style of spelling “grey,” although it can be used by US authors if it strikes their fancy. “Gray” is considered more the standard US spelling, however. 1
It all boils down to individual choice, though, unless your publisher insists on it being spelled one way or another. I myself prefer to use “gray” instead of “grey.” It feels like a stronger spelling of the word to me.
While editing a non-fiction book tonight I came across this simile:
“…in the trenches and battle front…”
At first I was inclined to make “battlefront” a single, not dual word. Then I realized I was dealing with a repetitive simile.
The word “trenches” can be used as a simile for the workplace. So can “battlefront.” Using both is repetitive, for where would you find trenches but on a battlefront? Therefore, using both in the same sentence was grammatical overkill.
So I went and trimmed “in the trenches and battle front” to read “in the trenches.” Yeah, that will work for the client.
I almost used the phrase “…truly indeed blessed…” while making a comment on a post at Bubblews tonight. Then my grammar radar swept the combination and I detected a redundancy risk, so I decided to use the phrase “…truly blessed…” instead.
“Sincerely; genuinely …
Truthfully; accurately …
“Without a doubt; certainly …
In fact; in reality …”
So, since one of the meanings of “truly” is “indeed,” than using the phrase “…truly indeed blessed…” is redundant grammar… well, indeed.
You could use the phrase for the dialogue of a character in a play, screenplay, story, or novel who is using informal English while speaking, however. People are prone to use redundant grammar while using the spoken word.
Okay, so you pound out a first draft of a short story. Then you craft a second draft from it, then you concoct a third. Finally, you think it is ready enough to submit to a magazine, and send it off.
You wait, check your inbox or mailbox, wait, and wait some more.
Sometimes your wait lasts until you realize your submission has failed to make an impression on the editors of the publication you submitted your story to. Usually, however, you get a form letter response thanking you for your submission, but it was not a story the publication was looking for.
Frustration boils up in your chest as you look over your short story again and think, why did they reject this?!
Speaking from my experiences as both an author of rejected short stories and a volunteer slush reader for Every Day Fiction, I can give you three reasons why your short story was rejected:
Your grammar needs more work.
I have submitted short stories that contained numerous typos, run-on sentences, and redundant grammar. This meant they were rejected within five seconds of being pulled out of the slush pile. I have also read stories submitted to Every Day Fiction that contained numerous typos, present/past tense shift errors, and other goofs that earned them a “no” vote from me and the other slush readers.
Your grammar may be good, but your plot does not flow well.
I have written and read short stories with plots that never really went anywhere. While some of the latter were well-written pieces of vignette/slice of life fiction, they still lacked the gripping plot and character development that makes for entertaining literature. Even J.D. Salinger’s moody, introspective novel The Catcher In The Rye had a plot that carried his main character/narrator Holden Caulfield on a journey.
3. Your plot and pacing is good, but the editors have seen it before.
Suppose you like dystopian fiction. You write a well-written short story about two teens living in a dystopian world who fall in love while fighting other teens in death matches broadcast around the world in a twisted form of Reality TV. Then you send it off to a major sci fi/fantasy magazine. Guess what? Half of the stories sitting in that magazine’s slush pile are just different takes on the same plot! It is true authors and publishers try to cash in on literary genre fads, yes, but a lack of originality in your plot can leave your story vulnerable to being rejected.
There are other reasons your short story can be rejected. It is because you did not check the submission guidelines before submitting your story, or your story was accepted but then dropped at the last minute due to reasons beyond your control. The three reasons listed above are the biggest reasons why short stories are rejected, however, so be aware of them while crafting your next short story. Making sure you write well, and have an engaging and original plot will only increase your chances of getting a short story published.