Saturday morning in our apartment was marked, as all of them ought to be, by Saturday morning cartoons. It may be more accurate to say “cartoon”, singular — only one cartoon was shown, on repeat, because my roommate’s visiting friends had fallen asleep watching it the night before. It was “The Old Man and the Lisa“, the episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns loses all his money and is forced to make a living by recycling. Sent to a retirement home, Mr. Burns looks for something to do, such a newspaper to read, only to be met with Grampa Simpson’s explanation of why none are available: “We’re not allowed to read newspapers. They angry up the blood.”
The same restriction ought to be placed on me as well, except I shouldn’t be allowed to read grammar blogs. For you see, as I was busy working on my big yearly paper, I needed to read something to clear my head from all the Dirichlet distributions dancing in my head. Having already hit all of the sites I normally hit for distracting stories and finding nothing new, I foolishly sought out what other grammar bloggers had to say for themselves. Three minutes later, my blood had been so angried that I actually left a corrective comment on one blog — something that I virtually never do. I felt soothed and returned to my paper with a renewed vigor.
The next day I noticed that there was no comment on that post. Odd, I thought, but then again, I’d been up late writing the night before. It was entirely possible that I’d thought better of posting the comment. So I tried another comment, shorter and less confrontational. It too disappeared. And so I have to go to all the bother of debunking this grammar gremlin here instead of settling it there.
The post in question is just the same junk everyone says on the internet to show their linguistic superiority — complaining that the so-called “educated” amongst us are actually uneducated, blaming the ills of modern language usage on “the drone of mass media”, all that jazz. The whole point of the post is that the rabble is destroying the language by replacing adverbs with adjectives. The post drips with disdain for those dips whose slovenly usage is slowly leaching our precious adverbs from our precious language.
Look, I don’t have a lot of patience for this garbage. I’m not going to assert that adverbs definitely aren’t disappearing, but let me point out that the first three examples given to support the claim that our language is falling apart are completely specious. This is the opening paragraph of the post:
My theory—though I cannot call it my own, original theory—is that within the next hundred years or so, all adverbs will cease to exist. I see them slowly disappearing throughout the various levels of education: the un-tenured freshman recalling that her O-Chem professor “talks too fast” (forgetting, for a moment, the equivocation of the verbs talk and speak); the corporate guru pitching his product as “built tough;” all the way up to the double-doctorate responding “I’m good, thanks” when confronted by the everyday salutation “how are you?”
So we have three examples of adverbs being displaced: talks too fast, built tough, and I’m good. There’s just one problem. Adverbs aren’t being displaced in any of these.
Let’s start with “talks too fast”. I’m supposing that the author presumes it’s an error because fast is an adjective and not an adverb. Since fast is modifying the verb talks, an adjective would indeed be inappropriate. But here’s the thing: fast is both an adjective and an adverb. It’s been an adverb since around 1200, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, the OED notes that the adjectival form of fast came from the adverbial form! I don’t even know what the intended correction of talks too fast would be supposed to be. Talks too fastly? Nope.
Now on to that damnable Ford advertising slogan: “built tough”. Okay, that complaint at least gets the part of speech right; tough is indeed an adjective, and there is no adverbial usage of tough that would be consistent with the intended meaning. But as it turns out, the adjectival form is totally fine there. It’s called a predicative adjective. Compare it to
(1a) I painted the door white.
(1b) The door was painted white.
(2a) The company built the truck tough.
(2b) The truck was built tough.
And note that an adverb doesn’t actually work here. You can’t say the door was painted whitely, and while I think you could say the truck was built toughly, it doesn’t have the right meaning. Toughly in that phrase describes the manner by which the truck was built, while tough in (2) is modifying the truck itself. And since the truck is a noun phrase, it gets modified by an adjective, not an adverb.
I’ll admit that the predicative adjective sounds a little odd — I don’t often use it myself — but it’s been standard English for quite some time. While you may have many objections to the Ford Motor Company, this one just isn’t justified.
The last complaint is saying “I’m good.” On occasion back at college, I caught some guff for this. In my family, we just don’t say well. We’re not well, we’re good. There is a substantial difference to me — well implies mere healthiness, while good implies an overall contentedness. One can be well without being good, and vice versa. But I digress. What’s more important than a brief overview of my family’s social interactions is that well in this situation isn’t an adverb, either. It’s an adjective.
You have to use an adjective in this sentence because there’s only a linking verb. You couldn’t say I’m indignantly; you’d say I’m indignant. The modifier is modifying the subject of the sentence, so it’s got to be an adjective. When you say I’m well, you’re not using adverbial well, because there wouldn’t be anything for the adverb to modify. You’re using adjectival well, which just means “healthy”. It’s a separate question whether you think well is a better adjective than good in this sentence, but the choice has to be between adjectives. Adverbs are strictly ruled out. Strike three.
Okay, so someone on the internet is wrong. Why was I so riled up? Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared about this junk if it weren’t for the last paragraph of the post:
I blame the drone of the mass media, producing poorly thought-out mind-tranquilizers without regard for elevating the comprehension of the masses. But then, I generally hate the entertainment industry and am always quick to point out its culpability in the denigration of our society whenever possible. Meanwhile, if at some point you catch me twitching while listening to you, there’s a good chance you’ve forgotten two very important things: first and foremost, you’ve forgotten your third grade grammar lessons; and second, you’ve forgotten that you’re talking to a grammar snob.
See, that’s why people don’t like self-appointed “grammar snobs”. Not only are they often completely wrong, but they’re insufferably condescending about it. If you’re going to go around telling everyone that they’re idiots, you should probably do a little research to make sure they really are.