On Dolly the Dog, Liv Tyler, Shibboleths, & My Favorite Part of Speech

When I’m feeling resistant to Strunk & White and other style shibboleths, I love to remember Schoolhouse Rock. During the American Copy Editors Society’s May tweetchat, we gathered to discuss “what to sweat.” This discussion led to the pet peeves of others by which we cannot abide. (Refusing to end a sentence with a preposition? Check.)

I forgot to say: I am fighting the good fight against generations of writers who disparage the adverb.

Adverbs can be slashed (visibly wounded on many cutting room floors) for brevity’s sake. Adverbs can be very, very bad. How bad? Extremely bad. The stuff of blockbuster film trailers.

But adverbs are the Liv Tyler of language. You can’t put them in everything. Apply sparingly. But when perfectly cast: Well, what can be added to That Thing You Do or Arwen in the LOTR movie series or Corey Mason in Empire Records? They are the strange part that makes the whole better, richer, somehow more credible.

Adverbs, when applied well, are evidence of a language full of quirks, of a writer’s great (or not-so-great) diction. An adverb is a tell.

I’d like to stand up proudly for the pulverized little guy who often sports an -ly or dark in cognito bug-eye sunglasses. Many afternoons I take a dance break with my dog and sing the song above: “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, get your adverbs here.” Dolly the dog also enjoys the occasional adverb, as it is frequently accompanied with a treat. (What? She is my workplace proximity acquaintance.)

Dolly the Dog: My relatively new workplace proximity acquaintance. No, I don't normally work from bed. But Dolly does.

Dolly the Dog: My relatively new workplace proximity acquaintance. No, I don’t normally work from bed. But Dolly does.

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