Questioning Your Language Ability

Over the weekend I had the splendid opportunity to read for hours on end.  I love traveling in the car because DH is a driver not a rider, the duct tape works well on the kids the kids are fairly self-sufficent and I don’t get motion sickness. 

In addition, our closest rellies live two and a half hours away, so car time is akin to heaven for me.  Until Saturday when I ran across a sentence in a book that made my reading pleasure come to a screeching halt.

It bothered my so much I couldn’t let it go.  Three days later I’m still obsessing over it, so I thought I would bring it to you, my dear readers and fellow writers. 

The offending passage was this: They banned together against me in deciding to sell the farm.

Now I didn’t major in English, creative writing or any sort of language arts that would make me an expert on the subject, but this sentence threw me.  I read it.  Reread it.  Contemplated my definitions of banned and band.  Checked with the dictionary (thank you Kindle for the instantaneous and in depth definitions) and reread the entire page surrounding the questionable sentence.

Then I read it out  loud to DH, with the spelling lost in the verbal translation.  Even so, he made that face that told me the sentence sounded off.  Maybe.

Sheesh.  This sentence drove me to drink my dessert coffee this morning sans the hazlenut creamer.  I needed the strong stuff to get me through.

Now your job is to tell me if I am a writing failure taking my angst out on a pubbed author an English failure, or if this sentence really should have been rewritten.

My definition of banned (of which Webster kindly concurred) is that banned is the past tense of ban, which really means to exclude and is typically used in the sense of exclude from something.  Hence, the sentence would read something like this:

They excluded together against me in the decision to sell the farm.

My question is thus: doesn’t ban need an object?  IE–they banned me from the ball game after I flipped the ref the birdie.  Or, I have been banned from the library because I don’t know the meaning of shhhhshhhhshush.   

Likewise, am I wrong in my assumption that the banned the author wanted (and the editor let slip), is in fact band?

As in a combination of a thin strip of flexible material used to encircle and bind one object or to hold a number of objects together: a metal band around the bale of cotton and something that constrains or binds morally or legally: the bands of marriage and family?  And maybe even tissue that connects or holds structures together?  As defined here.

Should the sentence be: They banded against me in deciding to sell the farm?  (came together)

Or, They banned me from the decision to sell the farm?  (excluded)
I simultaneously love and hate reading somthing that makes me question my language ability.  I love that it stretches my understanding of the written word.  I hate when it bothers me so much I can’t function until I figure it out.  Even more so, I hate when I’m wrong.  But that’s beside the point.
Right now, I need some sort of validation that tells me my inner ear was right in hearing this sentence wrong, or I need someone to set me straight so I don’t mistakenly submit a manuscript with my incorrect version of the truth.
Banned or band?  Which is it and why?
Also, what kinds of things make you question your language ability?  Share examples of other tricky words/phrases that can help other writers on their journey.

16 responses to “Questioning Your Language Ability

  1. A group can band together to ban something, but “banned” means “to prohibit.” Or I guess you could say that something was banned by a band! 😉

    On, it remarks that band and banned are commonly confused. I would say that the editor of your book was confused!

  2. That sentance does sound off. Seems like an editor error to me. I would have definitely had a few shoulder twitches after reading it. 😛

    • I hate when that happesn because it pulls me out a story and then I become hyper critical over every sentence after that.

      I can only pray that I have some good beta readers and a wonderful editor to keep stuff like that out of my books!

      • Even if something slips threw(sorry, I had to LOL) the cracks, hopefully the story is good enough to overshadow it.

      • Void, very true. I just hate to think of being a writer that habitually slips major errors into her writing. How do we get around it? Even with so many eyes, it happens often…

  3. I agree that it sounds off. It has a hint of manufactured formality.

    • Yes, it wasn’t the best written sentence to begin with, which maybe was why it was harder to grasp if the issue was the writing or a mechanical issue.

      Not that I wrote that very clearly…

  4. You’re not losing it – the sentence is wrong. I’m assuming the book’s written in past tense? If so, they banded together… would work (although it’s not a great sentence).

    I hate when something in the writing brings me up short. I prefer to read like a reader (not a writer) as much as possible (which is becoming more difficult the more I learn) and it drives me nuts when my internal editor comes screeching to the forefront! Makes me want to put down the book 🙂

    • Jemi,

      Yep, past tense, which would make for an awkward sentence if technically correct. I agree that the more I write, the harder it is to tame the IE. It makes me sad sometimes. I almost long for those carefree days when I could be impressed with reading the cereal box…

      Okay, I was never THAT easy. Oh wait, yeah I was! All those fun games, useless tid bits of info, micro stories, recipes. I’m getting hungry for a box of Lucky Charms. : )

  5. It definitely is an editing error. Should have been “they banded together” (or they banned me from the group that made the decision!).

    I tend to gloss over editing errors when I’m reading. What can grip me for days, though, is when something is accidentally not resolved. Then I’ll go around for days muttering, “but who DID eat the mac n cheese when no-one was looking???” …

    • Belle,

      Totally with you on that. Sometimes I feel like I’m left dangling with the little subplots and that drives me crazy. I like solutions. Either that or I’m just nosy and want to know all the nitty-gritty details…

      : )

  6. I’m voting for “banded” as the correct word. I guess we’ll never know if the editor missed it, or the copy editor made the error in a moment of brain freeze and the author didn’t catch it in his final read.

    These kinds of errors slip through all the time — I find at least one in most books I read. You’re right, they yank you right out of the story for a few seconds (and they make great blog posts).

    We authors are supposed to turn in great copy, then go through one or more edits and read the book again to catch new errors, then read it again after the copy editor is done, and then one more time when the advance review copies are distributed. By then, we practically have the thing memorized, so it’s easy to miss that one last typo.

    • Patricia,

      That’s what I’m worried about–when the time comes. I don’t want my readers to lose the connection, even for a moment, to ponder a word, sentence or paragraph. I know it is inevitable that typos happen–those I can live with if they are a minimum. It is the bigger things I’m worried about.

      And, I also know that with budget cuts in the publishing industry, that our manuscripts have to be super-polished. Errors like this–if too many or at critical times–can be enough for some agents/editors to say, “Pshaw, too much work” and pass.

  7. You’re totally right. The word “banned” is misused in that sentence. Another one I see all the time is “passed” and “past.”

    Good catch!

    • Elana,

      Homophones give a lot of people trouble. My oldest can’t figure them out to save his life!

      I have been band in the passed from using my DH’s long undies. He hates when I use them for jammies!

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