Turns-of-phrase, underline-able quotes and really cool kids

As a preschooler, my son would have told you that he liked Wake Up Blue.

Wake-Up Blue is the color of the sky when you wake up in the morning. It’s not navy blue or royal blue. It’s Wake-Up Blue.

His unique terminology really hit the mark. It was visual and specific before he ever picked up the crayon or pointed to the T shirt or even to the sky.

Another thing he made up invented was: Pick me down.

Pick me up — followed by — pick me down.  Why didn’t I think of that?

My daughter, years later, aptly coined the term “lasternight.” A compound word, no less, from a two-year-old. Last night + Yesterday = Lasternight.

We also have family words. All families do. Pass me the fishy crackers and when we have spaghetti don’t forget the sprinkle cheese. I don’t have to add a qualifier or explanation at home or for you either, do I?

Writers do this all the time. They – we – can have a way of saying things that no one else does. It’s more than choosing the right word, it’s putting the right words together the right way so that the reader knows exactly what we mean. And it sounds good, even if it sounds different. Maybe especially if it sounds different. We call it turn of phrase.

When I first started writing people told me a could turn a good phrase. Frankly, I had no idea what they meant, although I certainly said thank you. (They always said it so nicely, I knew it was to be taken as a compliment) As I got more into writing and did more and more reading with writer’s eyes, I knew exactly what they meant.

I was glad I’d said thank you.

For me, the best women’s fiction has underlineable phrases, sentences or paragraphs — something the author said in just the right, hit-the-nail-on-the-head way.  It’s also true of all fiction (for me) and non-fiction like memoirs.  When I read and the words are so evocative and precise, lyrical and smart that I am blown away.  Sometimes something underlinable is just explaining something in a fabulous way.  It’s the Wake-Up Blue and Lasternight of literature.  We love to read it and we LOVE when we write it.

Do you have a particular turn of phrase that really made you think “I wish I’d written that!”  Something that made you take a visual step back, read it again and realize it was masterful or just plain clever? 

How about something one of your own characters says that’s specific to her or  him only — whether it’s in dialogue or within the prose.  In THE GLASS WIVES, one of the main character, Evie’s, best friends, Laney, refers to another character as The Widow.  Laney never uses this gal’s name.  It’s Laney’s thing.  Not a turn of phrase but definitely a Laney-ism.

Are there any “isms” in your book? In your real life?

I realize you can’t come up with something better than Wake-Up Blue or Lasternight…but tell me anyway!

~ Amy

15 thoughts on “Turns-of-phrase, underline-able quotes and really cool kids

    • Yes, thank you Amy, it is a wonderful post.
      One reason I always wanted to own my books was to underline, turn a corner down or highlight words that were special to me. I couldn’t just let them disappear but had to save them forever. Library books or borrowed books from friends were never for me.
      My family had some great phrases, too.
      Thanks again Amy.


  1. I am amazed sometimes when I can write a comparison between two things and the sentence is perfectly balanced. I don’t think I’m a very lyrical writer when it comes to my women’s fiction, but after reading a book full of poetic prose, I think I might have to up my game on the next one. 🙂 Funny post. Kids say the greatest things.


  2. I’m the queen of highlighting great lines in my kindle. My most recent made up word was Mood Cakes, something two best friends brought each other when they were “in a mood.” when they were teens they were hostess cupcakes. As adults, they are cupcakes from the bakery, but same concept. I used it when adding a storyline to The Stork Reality, which I’m updating after getting my rights back from the publisher who published it in 2006.


  3. Marilyn Brandt in “A Summer in Europe,” wrote a wonderful paragraph I’ve underlined AND highlighted. I’d been trying to write this type of thoughtful reflection in a way that didn’t make a heroine sound presumptive or arrogant and Brandt just hit-the-nail-on-the-head!

    “Gwen knew this was true of other things, too. She’d always enjoyed her CD player until she got her first iPod. She’d like the creaminess and mild flavor of ice cream well enough until she tasted her first gelato cone. And she’d thought her physical attention to Richard was perfectly adequate until she met Emerson and began questioning it …. Just the awareness that there might be a real difference changed everything.”
    Love it!


  4. Love this post!

    I underline words in poetry. Poets have a natural ability, in my opinion, to paint a vivid word picture.

    As for me, my current work-in-progress is filled with phrases coined by a main character (both literally and figuratively), Lynnie. (I have a file named Lynnie-isms filled with phrases and words Lynnie mangles.) He’s an old man whose synapses don’t snap like they used to. He hangs out with me and changes phrases that come up in conversations, such as “Denial isn’t just a river that flows through Brazil.” I find myself saying, “What would Lynnie say?” lol.


  5. What a fun post! I love it! I have a lot of me-ism. I know because people tell me that I make up words and phrases a lot. And I love to give people nicknames, theme songs, and awards. That is kind of my thing. It’s a sign of endearment for me. If I don’t have a nick-name for you, then we are definitely not close. I have noticed that my characters tend to do similar things. It’s funny because I love made up words like numbery and google as a verb. But misused words drive me crazy! When I see someone write “a myriad of” I literally shiver. But lasternight, that’s awesome.


  6. I’m currently reading the well researched and well written novel Daughters of the Witching Hill. In it, author Mary Sharratt uses may a turn of phrase from days of yore. One of the ones that stood out for me was: sit well below the salt. I’m savoring this books like fine wine–turning the pages very slowly.


  7. I thought I was the only one who loved these – reading them, and especially writing them! Can’t think of my favorites from other authors, but my copies of Pat Conroy and Jodi Picoult’s novels are all marked up with them.

    I’m big on nicknames too – a fat horse is Pork Chop, A pale black haired woman in wanna-be Western clothes is Dolly Parton gone goth.


  8. Lovely post. Makes me think I have forgotten too much of my kids growing up!

    We are a bi-lingual family, so language is jumbled up between English and Italian, hard for outsiders to follow. I have one son who specialises in accents and has us rolling on the floor. Hopefully it will help his studies in Mandarin!

    A lot of the books I order from Amazon have underlined sentences and I do love that. And a quirky turn-of-phrase always raises a smile.


  9. I love this, Amy! And I had to smile when you said “sprinkle cheese.” That’s so adorable and so perfect.

    One of the things I’ve noticed I do in my writing (and in my own life) is play with language–both English and Spanish. Since I grew up speaking both, it was interesting to see how one language would fill in the blanks when another got lost in translation. I make up words that are a mix of both. For example, I have a terrible sense of direction. When I’m driving around and start to feel disoriented I’ll joke that I’m desubicated, because in Spanish “disoriented” is “desubicada.”


  10. When my son was around five he had drawn, what he thought, was a wonderful picture. His sister, who was eight, picked up the paper and wadded it up. My son cried and cried. He had some minor speech problems, but the word that came out of his mouth caused all of us to giggle, quietly. He had made up his own word that made sense, at least to him. He yelled loudly and through tears, “Moooooooooom, Kelly wibble wobbled up my picture.”


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