Sunday, October 16, 2011


My son, taking a linguistics course in college, is enjoying it immensely. But as he shared tidbits from his professor’s wisdom, this old joke popped into my mind.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language where a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

This made me think of the subtlety of voice. For writers it isn’t the every dotted ‘i’ which is the meat of writing. Editors were created for a reason. It is the elusive quality, that thing called ‘voice.’

The little story above^ jars me from the world of academic analysis to where real writing makes an appearance.

Yeah, right. Tell me about it.


  1. Voice, for me, can either be really easy, or really hard. Sometimes I have to switch between first and third voice to see which one really "sings", and sometimes I'll try bringing the secondary character forward and pushing the original MC back because I like the secondary character's attitude, or voice, better.

  2. Hah, that's so true (and such a cute joke!). I've really found writing "American" in the UK that sometimes I have to explain my voice, or convince my crit partners that someone would really say things like that. It's jarring, and makes it harder to hold onto that elusive voice. Then I end up asking my American friends really stupid questions about what they would say in such and such circumstances. ;)

  3. Love that story! Yes -- theory meets reality.

    But I love that in English two negatives make a positive, just as in math.

  4. "Yeah right!" What a clever student! I'd give her an A for the class just for that response.

  5. Great story! Since I write for kids, I do sometimes need to be careful in writing words where the meaning depends entirely on the tone of voice (e.g. sarcasm), because sometimes they won't get it.

  6. Great story! thank you for sharing...