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Two contemporary errors

June 4, 2016

I’m still wading through Open University assignments – a batch of Creative Writing ones and a batch of Children’s Literature ones. I’ve noticed two recurring errors. The first is the use of within in preference to in. Eg students write things like “Within this essay I will be exploring the emergence of social realist themes in contemporary children’s literature”; or “The characters within this novel all demonstrate some degree of moral ambiguity” etc etc. In these cases within is not exactly wrong but does not sound quite right either. It sounds as if the thing to be explored or discussed is actually physically present, trapped between the pages like a dried flower or dead insect.

The other misuse, common in creative writing pieces, is transfixed in preference to fixed. Eg: “His eyes were transfixed on the sinister shadow in the corner of the room.” Transfix doesn’t actually mean the same thing as fix. It means motionless, rooted to the spot. But it sounds better, or is thought to. Further confirmation, in both cases, of Robshaw’s Law: where two words occupy neighbouring semantic areas, the more impressive-sounding one will be chosen, regardless of accuracy.

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