Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Festering Over Festoon

by Robin Allen

As a person who makes her living with words, you'd think I would love every single one of them, but for no rational reason, I loathe the word festoon. It's a self-consciously jaunty word that shares its first syllable with fester, which is what I do every time I see it in print. (And that's the only time I'm aware of the word because no one actually uses the word in conversation. It's too stoopid. Say it out loud now: festoon. See? Stoopid. Festoopid.)

Two of my favorite writers, however, have used it in their essays. One is forgiven, the other is not.

"It's a[n]…Everest of shellfish, an intimidating, multilevel tower of crushed ice and seaweed, piled, heaped—festooned with oysters from nearby Belon, and slightly farther away Cancale." –Anthony Bourdain, "Lust," Medium Raw

Bourdain could have left out "festooned" altogether or substituted "shored up" or "scaffolded" or "strewn." I forgive Tony because later in the essay he writes about local red wines "whose rough charms have lately got a serious hold on you....The Baron Rothschild could back his car up to the door, trunk full of monster vintages, he's drunk and offering them for free—and you would decline."

Peter Mayle is not forgiven.

"Men were scarce. They would be picked up later, festooned with shopping bags, and led away to whatever joys awaited them that evening." –Peter Mayle, "Undressing for Lunch," French Lessons

Pete is trying make a weak sentence interesting. He could have used a less pretentious word, such as "ladened" or "garnished." This is, after all, an essay—an entire book—about food.

I dislike other words, of course, but writing festoon so many times at a single sitting has done me in.

What about you? Is there a word or phrase that makes you cringe or chaps your hide when you see it in print?

Robin Allen
Author of the Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop Mystery Series
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Now available on Kindle, Nook, and eBook
See my poem "A Friday Afternoon" in the 2012 Texas Poetry Calendar


Vicki Doudera said...

There is an author whom I both know and read who uses the expression "pinked up," as in, "Her cheeks pinked up." Once I spotted it, I saw it again and again. For some reason it bugs me. You might say she festoons her paragraphs with this rosy little turn of words...

Lois Winston said...

I once read a book by a very famous romantic suspense author. She used the word "sardonic" so many times when referring to one character that I finally took a highlighter and highlighted each "sardonic" on one page. I don't remember the actual number at this point, but it was definitely in double digits.

However, the worst offender? "Heighth." I constantly hear people saying this when referring to the height of something. I've never seen it in print, but I hear it constantly on television, often from people who should know better. THERE'S NO SUCH WORD!!!

Robin Allen said...

Vicki - "Pinked up" is cute, but only the first time. That would annoy me, too.

Lois - Sardonic is one of those words you can use once in every three books you write. And what's wrong with heigth? It goes with width. :-)

Keith Raffel said...

Robin, why pick on festoon? How often do you see it? Why not pick on something we read more often like, um, uh... (I'll get back to you.)

Robin Allen said...

Keith - I don't seen that word too often, probably because a lot of authors feel the same way about it as I do.

Beth Groundwater said...

The word that annoyed the heck out of my husband and me was "like" when used in our daughter's speech when she was a teenager. I swear it was every fourth word! Thank goodness she's broken the habit, now that she's an adult.

Robin Allen said...

Beth - I think teens have traded "like" for "all." "I was all 'what?'" Both of them are, like, so annoying!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I'd like to speak up in defense of "festoon," but I can't come up with anything.

Robin Allen said...

Kathleen - I rest my case.