Friday, September 10, 2010

Adverb Pollution

I am back at school and back to editing people in my head as they speak. Students, colleagues, administrators. TV anchors, TV reporters. No one is immune—either to making errors, or to my internal correcting.

Two common mistakes I’ve been hearing about which I can no longer shut up are Literally and Hopefully.

Okay, folks. Literally is used when a phrase normally used as a figure of speech is used literally. If you are using a figure of speech but mean it literally, go for it. If not, please don’t.

If you say “literally, I was buried with emails,” I expect to find you in your office under a pile of printed emails.

If you say “my husband literally just made a mountain out of a mole hill!” well then I need to be able to drive by your house and see a big ass hill in your yard.

What you mean to say probably is “seriously,” or “I’m not kidding when I tell you… " Take: "I was literally two feet from the scene of the crime the day before.” As opposed to I was figuratively two feet away? Or is what you meant “believe it or not, I was 2 feet away the day before!”

“I was literally at school until 5 o’clock that night.” As opposed to figuratively at school till 5 o’clock?

Don’t use literally for emphasis. While we’re at it, don’t use seriously, or honestly, either. Using those would imply you typically are joking around or a big fat liar. Jill really hates the “I’m going to be honest with you” preface to a sentence. Seriously. (Ha. I make myself laugh.) I think what people mean there is “I’m going to be painfully honest with you [insert insult meant to sound caring here, like: don’t wear horizontal stripes]” or “I’m going to give you more information than you want or ever need: [insert TMI personal detail here].”

When in doubt, leave it out. Those personal details, and the adverbs, that is.

And Hopefully, my friends, is also an adverb. Meant to modify or describe a verb. Take: "She scratched her lottery ticket slowly and hopefully." It does not mean, "I hope," or "let’s hope." “Hopefully, the weather will improve for the weekend.” NO. “ I hope the weather improves this weekend.” YES. I don’t think I ever hear hopefully used correctly, although I never give up hope that I will.

Please stop Adverb Pollution! It’s killing me!

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