on adverbs

October 27, 2006

I have determined that I do not like the word “fast” very much at all.

I used to be very peevish about poor grammar usage. Well, I still sort of am, but I’ve lightened up quite a bit. I took a linguistics class when I was an undergrad that fulfilled some breadth requirement, it was orthography of American English and was filled with pre-Med students. One of the more interesting opinions the professor in that class gave out was that languages are not, should not be static, that rules of grammar and spelling change over time, and that while it’s good to have rules, it’s not necessary to be so strict about rules that were created hundreds of years ago, often for very random reasons. If people start changing the rules, that’s just how language works, and the rules need to change. Well that opinion made a lot of sense to me. So it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to when people make grammar errors. I make them all the time. Although most of my errors tend to be usage errors.

This is maybe surprising to those of you who know me pretty well, but believe me, I’m much less obsessed than I used to be. I honestly really love language and am fascinated by how it works. I always love meeting people who are good at expressing themselves verbally.

And I still have one little thing that I can’t get over. It’s adverbs. I love adverbs. It is one perhaps outdated rule that I am not ready to give up. It kills me how frequently people use adjectives when they should be using adverbs. And it’s always “fast” that gets me the most. Lots of really smart people around me use the word fast to modify verbs. “She talks fast,” for example. Earlier this week I was attending a workshop at my daughter’s kindergarten about how they are teaching reading and writing to the children. In a book they handed out about writing, the word “fast” was used incorrectly. In a book ABOUT writing! I leaned over to Sean and pointed this out to him in a whisper, and he said that’s just how people use the word nowadays. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d rolled his eyes, because I am certain I bring this up all too frequently.

No! This is one rule I am not ready to give up! Adverbs!

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even like using “fast” as an adjective anymore, preferring “quick” instead.

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In other news, while walking outside last night, Matilda took one whiff of the woodsmoke smell in the air and declared “It smells like sausage!” That’s my girl.

And, my place of employment has a weekly radio show on UNC’s student-run radio station, every Sunday, from 1-2 PM. This weekend is my turn to play music on the show, and you can listen to it over the Internet if you like – WXYC
I’ll be playing soul and R&B for that one hour.

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3 Responses to “on adverbs”

  1. elizabeth Says:

    I too have had to loosen up about grammar and have been convinced by the linguists’ arguments about language being vital and dynamic, rather than static and regimented.

    I think what you’re saying here about adverbs is important because in some ways you’re not really advocating for “correct” grammar so much as retaining the variety, breadth, and expressiveness of language. Have you seen the studies that compare the number of words Americans typically use in speaking versus British English speakers? It’s staggering.

    However, I’m not sure I understand your example here. Fast is an adverb as well as an adjective. And it’s not always a synonym for “quickly.”

    I’m not in love with the American Heritage Dictionary generally, but they have a good entry:
    http://www.bartleby.com/61/65/F0046500.html

    I hope I’m not too putting to fine a point on this, but I’m curious about what the wrong usage was.


  2. Thank you thank you thank you Elizabeth – that dictionary entry was fascinating and cleared up a lot of things that have been frankly annoying the pants off of me for the longest time.


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