Thursday, 16 September 2010

Feral and gritted

I thought the use of the words “feral” and “gritted,” so prevalent in current romance fiction, a modern phenomenon, but yesterday I was startled to discover them in Jilly Cooper’s novel “Riders,” which was first published in 1985. I’m re-reading the book because I have a nasty bout of ‘flu and I’ve read everything new and unread in the house. In between coughing and sneezing and groaning I wanted something light and entertaining, something I could pick up and put down. It certainly entertains.

‘Coming towards her, breathing in the hot, feral sweat of her body…’

‘“Keep your foul mouth closed,” he gritted.’

I wonder if these two examples are where it all started twenty-five years ago? The words were used effectively, given the context. In the first case, feral describes a woman who refuses to use deodorants or shave her underarm hair and doesn’t wash overmuch either, so the use is accurate.

In the second case Jake holds a dinner knife to Rupert’s throat and threatens him. Not quite so accurate, but certainly there is conflict.

In many cases today the words and their use have changed whe they're used in romance fiction. Feral now suggests some kind of a sexual lure, as if a man who seems like a wild animal is the man any woman would yearn for as her soul mate. To me it conjures up men who are dirty, dishevelled, hairy and smelly. Definitely not my kind of soul mate!

So many times recently I have seen “he gritted” as a dialogue tag, and I cringe. I suspect it is often used to up the conflict stakes when there isn’t any real conflict in sight. Besides, if you grit your teeth it is very nearly impossible to speak. Try it. You can’t say more than two or three simple words, and you looked pretty silly as you were doing it, didn’t you?

Not as silly as me with a paperhankie to my red nose, perhaps....

No comments: