Misreading Literally, the Best Language Book Ever – I

Paul…Paul, Paul, Paul… I really do n’t think you understand what constitutes an adverb – at least, not on this occasion.  Your description: “In a basic sense, adverbs are words that answer the questions How?, When?, Where?, How much?, Why?, and to What extent? (Yeager, Best Language Book: p. 3)”  Yes, an adverb will usually answer such questions, but the core understanding of adverbs is that they modify verbs or other modifiers (adjectives and other adverbs).  I ‘m honing in on how what they do distinguishes them.

You take this to mean that ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, and ‘lastly’ are poor form.  You may not like the sound of it, but your argument that ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘last’ are adverbs is a bit unsound (to your credit, the likes of ‘Grammar Girl’ agrees with you).  In sequencing, I can nearly agree with your point; it ‘s superfluous and I ‘d be unlikely to use them in such a context.  Her argument, however, diverges from yours in that she sees ‘First’ at the beginning of a sequence referring to ‘the first point is’ ,in which case, we are dealing with an adjective.

I know I ‘m sifting too finely…but so are you.  It should be easy to recognize that ‘first’ and its counterparts function primarily as adjectives, but may be used as adverbs also without the need to add -ly.  I would much rather see you criticizing errors concerning function – you are n’t displaying much imagination in this aspect.

Finally, or the final point is, both you and Grammar girl bemoan where ‘common parlance supercedes proper usage’ as though written grammar is primary and spoken is derivative.  Again, language serves communication – communication may be constrained by linguistic norms, but grammar should serve us – not the other way around.  Your idea that common acceptance crystallizes errors is fair, but should n’t we primarily concern ourselves with that which blocks communication?

Misreading Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

Congratulations Paul Yeager for catching my eye with Literally, the Best Language Book Ever (Perigee, NY: 2008).  I have merely waded through the introduction to your humorous work.  I share your disdain for the trite and despise a certain subset of redundancies.  But before I give you any glowing marks, there ‘s a matter or two we should see to (I hope you are n’t one of those who think the split infinitive confuses communication in the slightest, or we ‘re going to have issues).

You bring up the verbifying of nouns with the examples of ‘tasking’ instead of ‘assigning a task’, ‘dialoguing’ instead of ‘having a dialogue’, and ‘transitioning’ instead of ‘making a transition’.  I ‘m nearly convinced that you think language is static and that there persists a right and wrong in lingual (or written) communication.  Are you well aware that language serves us, not we it?   Certainly there are better and worse normalcies in communication by means of language, but until all communicants die out any specific tongue will continue to change.  There is enough of a grand return that you should n’t be distressed — ‘breakfast’ is the nounified form of ‘to break (one’s) fast’ (and we still pay homage to this when we employ ‘breakfast’ as a verb).

Further, redundancies naturally creep into language.  Sure ‘completely finished’ and ‘absolutely essential’ are unnecessary – especially for those liberally applying Ockham’s razor.  You ‘re right to note that our speech has become overly dramatic (with the profusion of an absolute like ‘ever’), but I ‘m afraid here you ‘re picking one nit too many.  One might display mental laziness by choosing one’s words poorly (and so be passed over for promotions) – but we should more clearly define when errors are truly leading to communication distress.  So, let ‘s be a bit more careful what errors we spend energy pushing back against.

Let me finally agree that ‘I could care less’ is an unhelpful statement.  I do sincerely hope that those items you have chosen to pick at are actually helpful ones.  I must say I ‘m a bit put off at the beginning – shall we redeem what is left of your work?  Otherwise, I might take issue with your title selection.


*update: this is the only book both picked up and completely put aside in twenty-twelve.  I feel I ‘ve forgotten more useful concepts and insights than were available herein.  Of course, it ‘s difficult to keep up the false self-righteous reading for diatribe’s sake and this was a necessary casualty.  But am I the casualty of myself in this case? that is, am I merely exercising my own pretentiousness without stepping towards exorcism?