Poor, Maligned Adverbs

I recently ( <– look, an adverb) pasted a couple of stories into the Hemingway app. f3c5d3340813958b1260ad528c3c5403-schoolhouse-rock-adverbsThis web-based app tells you if your sentences are too long, highlights every adverb, and points out all passive voice.

Now, some of this is quite ( <– look, an adverb) useful.

And yet…what about the poor, maligned adverb? Sure, you can go overboard with both adverbs and adjectives, just ( <– look, an adverb) like you can go too far using dialogue tags.

“What was that?” screeched James.

“I’m not sure,” declared Cindy.

DeAndre added, “I’m not sure, either.”

“Who would know?” inquired Miranda.

Overkill. A reader’s eyes gloss over “said,” “said,” “said,” but we stumble over the exotic/descriptive tags.

Adverbs–AND adjectives, I’d argue–can be overused in the same way. No one wants to read: “Maria quickly walked to the ramshackle, old brownstone building, with decrepit, crumbling bricks covered lushly in vibrant, verdant ivy.” Too much. Redundant. More sometimes obscures meaning, in lieu of enhancing it.

Adverbs can be the same way. And yet. If you’re an adverb hater, please read this piece: “Abolish the Adverb? You Seriously Must Be Joking” in Slate, June 2016. I love that piece. I really do. If you didn’t click on it, go ahead. Click it now and read.

As Colin Dickey says: “Who will be the Lorax for the adverb, that most-maligned part of loraxspeech?”

Is the goal of writing truly ( <– look, adverb) to eliminate each unnecessary word from every sentence? Is all writing about only what is necessary? Or is writing about more than the necessary?

Hemingway isn’t one of my favorite authors. He actually wouldn’t make my top 100 favorite authors, no offense to him or his fans. So do we want a world full of Hemingway-mimics? Or do we also want the glories of language to trip from our tongues and pens in fluid, wanton syllables?

I don’t want to plug every bit of writing into this app and make it as Hemingway-esque as possible. I want to develop my own voice and embrace ALL the bits and pieces of our language.

As Dickey puts it:

“I, for one, am for sloppy writing, writing which uses two words when one will do. I’m for writing that isn’t always vigorous, for writing that sometimes is fey and effeminate. I’m for writing which is wasteful both of time and of ink.

“Reader, I want to waste your time. Needlessly, deliriously, unrepentantly.”



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