Serendipity and Fricatives
Serendipity. That happenstance which is unexpected and delightful. Like finding that forgotten twenty dollar bill in your jacket pocket about the time you need a spare bit of change to enjoy an impromptu gelato and a movie.
Serendipity also happens in writing. For instance, the other day my NaNo protag went on a side rant about swearing and she wondered (as I do) why certain sounds satisfy that need of relieving vexation. Those sounds are called fricatives.
Opening my latest version of Children’s Writer I experienced that serendipitous moment upon reading “Punch, Bold, Colorful: Fricatives” by Vera Boyd Jones. Here is her opening segment:
My friend Brendan, a brand-new teacher, sat at my dinner table complaining that a novel for junior high readers was totally unrealistic.
“There’s no way a juvenile delinquent would talk like that. His language would be full of words like *!&**## and $^*&$* and %(^*#. (Substitutes are mine.) Your ears would turn blue if you heard the kids talk in our school hallways, and they’re not in trouble with the law.”
“That may be,” I said in the tone I reserve for talking to young friends I have known since their birth and who should not be cussing in front of me, “but the first reader of a novel is an editor and once it’s in print, the next readers are reviewers and librarians, and they are not going to buy a kids’ book full of profanity. And I won’t even address the role of irate school boards.”
“But it’s not right,” he said.
“It’s not accurate, but that’s where substitute fricatives come in.”
“Phooey. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of fricatives? Shoot, they’re such wonderful words.”
Jones goes on to discuss the role of hard consonant sounds (p, f, b, d, k, sh, etc.) in our most colorful (and frowned upon) language. Fricative, itself, is a great fricative. Substituting naughty words with imaginative and consonant-rich ones is a solution to being tsked in the classroom. Chris Crutcher, a popular YA author, cares not for substitutes and runs through as many of the real thing as possible (it seems) in his writing. He’s proud of it too. I’ve had him as a guest in my classroom and the students are split between liking the realism of his language usage and being uncomfortable with reading it.
For now, Vera will stick with her frick-atives. After all, if I’m self-conscious saying them, how can I possibly have my characters utter them?