Notes from the grammar desk.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

I came across some guy‘s blog entry and, well, I stepped in it when I attempted to correct his grammar. Yeah, it’s one of my pet peeves—saying something is going “slow” rather than “slowly.”

So, in short, he really (really!) took offense. He wrote:

I don’t expect someone who works in television to understand aesthetics – even someone who purports to work in “design�? – so I won’t even begin to lecture you on the nuisances of postmodern/poststructuralist linguistic theory specific to your trite comment on my blog today – I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t understand. I won’t even attempt to explain to you why your archaic notions of grammar are laughable – suffice to say, adverbs (slowly) are slack, boring, ugly and ineffective compared to definitive verb progressives (slow). This is not up for grammar debate, it is a matter of personal aesthetic steeped in research and education.

But, hey, I really appreciate that you took the time to stop by and leave a disparaging remark. It’s nice to know that there is at least one person out there in the world who doesn’t have anything better going on in his life than to be slight or catty for the sake of being such. From one human being to another, man, that was a real hurtful thing to do. (yes – “real�? hurtful – not “really�? hurtful) Perhaps in the future you might think twice before 1) commenting about something you know absolutely nothing about & 2) being rude without warrant. I mean, what good does it do? Do you get a laugh out of being mean? Does it make you feel better about yourself? I feel sorry for you. Hopefully someday you’ll learn that there are better ways to feel good about yourself than trying to put other people down.

Yow. Here’s what I wrote back:

Wow…I didn’t intend to leave a disparaging remark…or if it came off that way, I apologize. I just corrected your grammar mistake.

It’s simple and unambiguous–the correct usage is “slowly”. There’s no such thing as a correct use of “slow” in that context. It’s “a matter of personal aesthetic steeped in research and education”? Um, no. It’s a red mark on the paper. An error. A mistake.

And yeah, “real” hurtful is, again, incorrect grammar.

I can hurl AP, NYT and countless stylebooks at you in support of that…but this seems like something you’re sensitive about and again, I’m sorry. I come from a life experience where corrections are a good thing, not a bad thing. I signed my name…I didn’t leave anonymous snark, I was trying to help.

If you think you’re being a literary pioneer or pushing the language into some sort of a new, better world by dropping perfectly good adverbs—I sincerely hope you don’t succeed. I’m all for language as an evolving thing–I’m just not so happy with a regression…and to me, that sort of usage is a regression.

You can dismiss me as “archaic” (gee, thanks…having a bad week?), but I think an open-eyed examination of good writing out there (start with a little Strunk and White—a festival of good design in its present incarnation!) might re-introduce you to the joy of correctly-used adverbs.

I apologize for the offense, but if you’re planning on writing for a living, I hope you take good usage seriously.


With best wishes, even from a TV guy.


[update: oh, there’s more. See the comments, below.]