Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Disqualifying Qualifiers

Writing teachers tell us to use adverbs sparingly, if at all, and I think they've got something there. The current popular tic where speakers place adverbs strategically to avoid expressing unqualified emotions or reactions waters down the effectiveness of speech no end. The effect on a piece of writing would be even worse.

A morning talk-show host here in Seattle seems incapable of direct expression of feelings. In one breath, he can be kinda shocked, a bit mad, a little mystified, and sorta blown away. He also finds events and occurrences to be pretty unique. Another local personality, in one short interview, admitted to having felt "a little bit surreal," and said that some correspondence he'd received had been "pretty moving" and "pretty powerful." Which, he added, had been "kind of the most surprising thing to me."

My most impressive example of this emotion-dilutive communication style came from a woman I overheard in animated conversation with a friend on a Seattle sidewalk. "Yeah, yeah," the woman shouted. "I was like, y'know, pretty much just BLEAAAAAAH!" Say wha'?

Could this disinclination to convey unqualified feelings relate to the sense that incivility is rampant in our culture, and maybe we ought to hit the soft pedal when we can? Or is it considered bad form to appear overly controlled by one's emotions? Whatever, listening to the way people talk puts the screws to me to pick up my blue pencil and - aside from their appearance in dialogue, as I might employ dialect or regionalisms to identify speakers - commit unqualified mayhem on those weak, flabby qualifying adverbs in my writing. When my characters are blown away, there's gonna be nothing sorta about it.


john M. Daniel said...

I pretty much wholeheartedly agree with you, Larry.

Larry said...

I kind of appreciate that, John.

theater-goer said...

Just found myself this morning as I was editing a project making the note that a set of quotation marks surrounding one word made it seem " like a slam." I hearkened back to your blog and realized that I was mousily avoiding a "je t'accuse," which is what I think some of those who qualify their nouns may be doing--at least those who can't commit on paper. Good post, bro'