Feb 17, 2014

Why We Have to Fight a War of Attrition Against Adverbs Until Absolutely None Are Left

A professional, self-respecting author should never use any kind of adverb, because adverbs are like putting a blond wig on your ice cream. You get a mouthful of hair and never taste the pistachio flavor.

Let’s work from an axiom here: I submit to you that adverbs are foul, unclean, pus-laden furuncles of language that have been working steadily and insidiously, ever since time began, to contaminate and eat away at the written word from within.

Do you, fellow writer, know this cunning enemy?

Consider the adverbs of time! Take “then,” for instance. It’s atrocious. Imagine you’re telling your child a story and you’re making it up on the spot. When the child asks, And then what happened? make sure you give him or her a proper scolding. Learn your young ’uns the habits of growed-up folk already!

Ah, but scolding doesn’t work, you say? Well, get a broken trumpet and blow into it as hard as you can every time the child uses “then.” If that doesn't do it, donate your child to Goodwill or something. She’ll never be a writer.


Adverbs of manner make me bellow like a rutting caribou. I see no use for gently or slowly; likewise, hard and fast strike me as plebeian, almost the very stuff of solecism. For me, only the elevated diction of… of… Marcus Aurelius! Or the Lorem Ipsum Generator. That’s good too.

And adverbs of place? Pshaw. Don’t even get me started. Do you really have to use purulent words like sideways or downhill? Must you punish the reader with such lowly fare as off or across?

Aye, adverbs come in all shapes and sizes, the better to deceive you, to trick you into using them. A million voices cry out for justice and simplicity of style! Who wouldn’t want to go to college and take quantum physics and mechanical engineering for five to fifteen years so they could build a time machine, go back in time and steal all of Shakespeare’s paper and quills and club him on the noggin before he got a chance to jot down that most abhorrent of archaic adverbs, the putrid, festering “anon” in Romeo and Juliet?

Not satisfied with the prodigious evil of their perilous proliferation, adverbs even have allies. ALLIES. Oh, yes, yes, I refer to the sinister, the soul-poisoning aberration of adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases. Gasp! Entire clauses that function as adverbs. Will you point me to the nearest fallout shelter? How can we defend ourselves – should a writer attack you with I like to fly kites for fun, why, only the strength of your conviction stands between you and the sharp knives of fate. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Adverbial clauses crossing the road.

What can we do, oh, whatever can we do?

“The truth,” writes Geoffrey Pullum, “is that nothing as mechanical as abandoning adverbs (or certain subclasses of adverbs) is going to uniformly improve your prose. (…) Do as the advice-giver does, not as he says. When he needs an adverb, he uses one. You should too. Decisively, proudly, and fearlessly.”

POST-SCRIPTUM
You know what else is terrible? Color adjectives. We should expurgate those from the English language. From all languages, in fact. Who needs to know the Woman in Red wore a red dress? Does it even matter? That movie is like six billion years old now. And why bother to write down that the sky is blue when everybody knows that, even blind people? Just like everyone knows the sky is black at night because you close your eyes and go to sleep because you can’t see a damn thing because it’s dark, especially out in the country without city lights and you can’t see shit without daylight or even the moon, just like chickens which, by the way, have no night vision.

POST-POST-SCRIPTUM
Usually, people quote a certain writer – I’ll call that writer SK – to justify their partisanship against adverbs. I suppose that they suppose this makes them look cool and knowledgeable. Well, for someone who so cogently advocated ‘simplicity’ in writing style, our friend SK is adept at mangling English syntax and turning straightforward ideas into kudzu vines. He doesn’t follow his own prescriptions with any degree of religiosity.
If you want to sound well read, try quoting Ferdinand de Saussure, Maimonides or Joris-Karl Huysmans.

POST-POST-POST-SCRIPTUM
Why not let Glove and Boots help you with your grammar?

an extra dose of visual inspiration after the jump

Jon Jacobsen

Akihito Takuma

Olga Karasik

Leslie Ann O'Dell

Lilia Mazurkevich

Michael Cheval

Marc Adamus

No comments:

Post a Comment