Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Q & A 10 "Boundaries."

OK, maybe I'm a dolt, but I have a usage question. I see the term "blurring the boundaries between..." used often and in literary contexts. But Mr. EE points out, "Usually, boundaries aren't between things, but outside things." Not to sound like a geometry or grammar idiot, but EE's correction confuses me and makes me fear I might have been using this almost-cliche incorrectly.

Evil Editor sees where you're coming from. The boundaries of a football field are the lines surrounding the playing surface. But can they not also be said to be the lines between the playing surface and the rest of the known universe?

Imagine a football playing surface floating in outer space. Now maybe you won't see so many gutless quarterbacks running out of bounds to avoid getting hit.

But returning to the issue, the author implied that the tone of her story lay somewhere between the storytelling of Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Lethem and the confessional style of Augusten Burroughs and Jennifer Belle. Why, that's like saying Hawaii lies somewhere between Australia and California.

Look at it this way. The United States represents all fiction. Seattle, Washington is the storytelling of Jonathan Lethem. Logan Airport, in Boston is the storytelling of Jhumpa Lahiri. Draw a line connecting them. We'll call that Interstate 90. Draw another line (I-40) connecting Wilmington, North Carolina to Barstow, California, those being the confessional styles of Jennifer Belle and Augusten Burroughs. Now, to claim that the tone of one's story lies somewhere between those highways is hardly meaningful. The editor will be wondering, Is her tone somewhere in the Ozarks? Or is it closer to Boise, Idaho?

Let's also keep in mind that if Evil Editor had not brought up the "boundary" issue, he never would have been able to work the word "hinterland" into his critique, costing him ten bucks.

To summarize, no you aren't a dolt for asking this question. You're a dolt for asking it here.


Anonymous said...

not to be a nit-picking nitwit, but the boundary in the original query was between truth and lie, while the tone was situated somewhere in the hinterland between all those authors that you are on a first-name basis with EE.

Rhonda Helms said...

LOL. That made me laugh, too. This blog is a riot.

Anonymous said...

Dolt here. I assumed that asking a literary editor a question about usage would be OK, especially if I, in my doltishness, have used the questioned usage in faulty query letters. Well, you know what happens when one assumes? Well, I did make an ass out of me in thinking my question was appropriate for this blog. I apologize for being a goof and asking the right question in the wrong forum. But thanks for er, answering, me. It was a crafty response.

BTW, the "nit-picking nitwit" anonymous post above has it right. The boundary I was asking about was the letter writer's reference to the so-called boundary between truth and lies, not "between" the aforementioned illustrious scribes. Now I will go away and lick my wounds, forever shamed in curiosity.

Anonymous said...

Yes. All usage questions should be directed here:

Evil Editor said...

Evil Editor has removed the boundaries from his analogy. Appropriately, this has had no substantial effect.

pacatrue said...

I feel obligated to chime in that, at least in certain fields, boundaries are routinely between things. My field happens to be linguistics and we talk all day long about word boundaries, syllable boundaries, phrase boundaries, etc. Of course, these are the edges of things and so would agree with EE's usage. However, we also like to say things like, "when a word boundary is between the two vowels...." Completely irrelevant to EE's point, but still true. It just points to the fact that people use words differently in different contexts, and, if you want to participate in this world, you have to know how it works. This general issue is one of the reasons I stop by this blog (other than because I almost always laugh). This blog is a great way to see how the publishing world, or at least the evil publishing world, operates.