After reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn I blogged briefly about its references to grammar; this post does likewise for her previous book, Dark Places (2009) – though the items concern spelling and punctuation more than grammar this time. Slight spoilers follow.
The narrator, Libby Day, as a young girl survived her family being murdered. For most of her adult life she has been living on the money sent to her by donors via her banker, Jim Jeffreys, who:
used to hand me bulging shoe boxes full of mail, most of them letter with checks inside. I’d sign the check over to him, and then the donor would receive a form letter in my blocky handwriting. “Thank you for your donation. It is people like you who let me look forward to a brighter future. Your truly, Libby Day.” It really did say “your” truly, a misspelling that Jim Jeffreys thought people would find poignant.
It’s a nice idea, that. I wonder how it arose. Driving from Kansas City to St Louis, Day remarks on some anomalous roadside punctuation:
The billboards ominously advising love of Jesus were in direct proportion to those advertising porn liquidators, and the signs for local restaurants consistently misused quotation marks: Herb’s Highway Diner—The “Best” Meal in Town; Jolene’s Rib House—Come in for Our “Delicious” Baby Back Ribs.
By coincidence, I recently looked at the use of quotation marks for emphasis.
Flynn writes in the Acknowledgements that she ‘couldn’t have lucked into a funner family. And no, funner is not a word.’ I guess she means it’s not a word in standard usage – this is often what underlies ‘not a word’ claims – but there’s no question that funner is a word by any well-founded definition of wordhood.
I saved the best (or the most interesting to me, anyway) till last. The book uses the spelling til throughout – about ten times that I noticed. It’s used in dialogue:
“Don’t open for the night til…” he trailed off when he saw me.
“You can never say that you know me, not til we leave.”
and in running prose:
Hide him away til this blew over?
I started screaming, nasty things, slamming my hand on the window, yelling til spittle ran out my mouth . . .
I stayed . . . for two hours, til we started running out of things to say, like we always did.
This is an unusual way to render the word. When until is abbreviated in formal contexts, it normally takes an apostrophe: ’til. (Till is older than until, and fully standard, but it’s not used in the book.) The apostrophised form ’til is used at least once, but – as if getting things back on unorthodox track – til appears later in the same paragraph.
When I mentioned this on Twitter, Jessa Crispin wondered if it was a Midwestern thing, as she ‘grew up thinking that was how it was done’. Flynn was born in Kansas City. Maybe it is a Midwestern thing, but it’s not a standard spelling, so I’m surprised it was used.
Just slightly surprised, mind. A search on COCA returns 1550 hits,* but a lot are false positives for ’til or until. Still, it could be more common in edited prose than I had supposed. Maybe Flynn stetted it, and the copy editor and proofreader missed one? Suggestions on a postcard or in the comment box below.
* Compare with 13,410 for till and 222,883 for until.