a lonesome (or lonely) road

Geek out with me!

One of my Fathers and Sons stories is called “The Lonely Road.” The poor protagonist is traveling down the road of life, thinking he’s a failure, but he’s the only one in his life who thinks that about him. He’s all alone on that road. Thus it’s a lonely road.

Now, in some random textbook at some random time in my past, I came across a distinction between the words “lonely” and “lonesome.” Lonely, the textbook said, should only be used to describe people, specifically people’s emotions. Lonesome, on the other hand, was reserved for inanimate things. Thus you could feel lonely on a lonesome stretch of road. And we all know how important the rules of grammar and usage and punctuation are in creative writing, don’t we?

My protagonist would feel lonely, but the road he is on would be lonesome, wouldn’t it? Thus my story title has an inherent usage flaw. Shouldn’t it be “The Lonesome Road”?

Do I care about this? Not in the slightest! If you’ve read this humble blog for even a short time, you know what little regard I have for the so-called rules of grammar and usage in the endeavor of creative writing.

But it does bring to mind a non sequitur that burns me. When I rant and rave in some forums about the optional nature of grammar in creative writing and all of the others in the conversation back down and decide to let the crazy man have his way, some brave soul will inevitably raise the point that you must know the rules of grammar before you can know when to break them. Balderdash, I say!

Raise your hand if you knew the distinction between lonesome and lonely prior to this rambling, ranting rumination of mine? I contend that there are probably dozens of obscure “rules” of grammar or usage, or even punctuation, that most of us serious writers have never heard of and blithely break ten times a day because it works for us. We don’t know these rules, yet we break them effectively.

Further, so many of the so-called rules of grammar are as flexible as a gymnast. Spend a little time surfing through the Motivated Grammar blog and you’ll see that many “hidebound” rules of grammar are hardly that at all.

So what’s my point? I’m pretty sure I had one when I started writing this post. Oh yeah, I’m keeping the title “The Lonely Road”! (Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe. “Proper” usage there. It’s not really about running, by the way, though that plays a critical part in one of the stories.)

Explore posts in the same categories: Fathers and Sons, Rants and ruminations

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