The Writer Expressed Her Loathing of Epithets


 

From Merriam-Webster:

ep·i·thet

noun \ˈe-pə-ˌthet also -thət\

a : a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing b : a disparaging or abusive word or phrase

I don’t know about you, but epithets in fiction cause me to utter quite a few disparaging and abusive words and/or phrases! It’s something painfully common in fandom and fanfiction, but recently I’ve seen it creep into published m/m works.

Last month, I was checking out books on All Romance and came across one that seemed right up my alley. However, when I read the excerpt, I was horrified to see one of the protags repeatedly referred to as “the blond.” The first time, I let it go, because I figured the writer was establishing characteristics — even if epithets are the wrong way to do it, IMO. But then it happened again. And again. And again. The other protag knew the character’s name, yet kept thinking of him in regards to his hair colour. Who does that?

I certainly never identify anyone I know by name in regards to their hair or profession or age. I don’t think: “I wonder if the older brunet man took a look at this revised copy.” But instead: “I wonder if Mike took a look at this revised copy.” I think of people I know by name.

Some would argue that it’s boring in a story to just use names and pronouns. I don’t agree. It’s not boring — it’s natural. Putting in painfully awkward descriptors doesn’t enliven prose; it renders it unreadable, at least for me. And yes, sometimes in m/m or f/f fiction, we run into pronoun confusion. But epithets are never the answer.

We think of people we don’t know with epithets that describe their features. The police officer. The doctor. The bystander. The pilot. The hot redhead. In fiction, if a minor character’s sole identity is their profession or hair colour, then referring to them as such is totally appropriate. But if we know their name — and if the character whose POV it is knows their name — then I beg you: no epithets!

Agree? Disagree? Have a writing pet peeve to share?

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