With the proliferation of abbreviations, emoticons and emojis masquerading as words in our emails and text messages, we somehow seem to be wordier than ever when it comes to our conversational tactics. In particular, we have been plagued by the adverb.
Stephen King said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” and I completely agree with him. I’ve been suspicious of adverbs since I was a wee lass and was led to believe the laborious task of rowing a boat could actually be done “merrily merrily merrily merrily.”
While a good “laughed heartily” or “smiled sheepishly” paints a succinct mental picture and is an appropriate use of the infamous verb-modifier; we’ve begun sprinkling redundant versions of these verbal flourishes in our everyday sentences like chocolate chips in cookies.
Take a good listen next time you have a chat with a friend or colleague (or with me) and you might notice a few of these unnecessary adverbs sucking all the good air out of the room:
Totally: Since the mid-80s this word has been bouncing around our vocabularies like a bad side-ponytail.
Definitely: The grown-up version of “totally.”
Currently: You can have done something in the past, or you can plan to do something in the future, but if you’re doing it “currently” you’re really just doing it.
Personally: In case there was a question as to whose opinion you were stating when you were stating your opinion.
Frankly/honestly/truly: Unless you’re Rhett Butler you can’t get away with this without raising red flags on all your sentences that don’t start with “frankly.”
Obviously: Either what you’re saying is obvious, negating the need for the preamble, or what you’re saying is not obvious and you’re insulting me.
Obviously, neither of these options is ideal.
Actually: While best used to convey a surprising statement, we most often employ this word to drive false excitement about something not
terribly interesting: “actually <dramatic pause> this green smoothie tastes like peanut butter.” It can also be used as a preface to correcting an incorrect statement: “actually <brace yourself ‘cuz you’re about to get schooled> Friends lasted ten seasons.” Either way, stop it.
While adverbs aren’t necessarily improper grammar, they are extremely superfluous, entirely redundant, and fairly lazy. Ok, so perhaps they won’t actually pave your way to hell, but the world might be a more concise place if we could keep our adverbs in check.
Do you ever find yourself speaking adverbiably?
Disclaimer: Nine adverbs were harmed in the writing of this post.