The Awkward Guide

In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself

The Shocking Systematic Abuse of Adverbs

Because, clearly, I’m running out of interesting things to say, this time I’m going to talk about grammar. Now, for the few remaining people who have not rapidly closed this webpage in sheer disgust, I hope to reassure you that I’m not going to be rattling on about past participles and subordinate clauses like a tweed-jacketed English teacher (I couldn’t do that to you, I don’t own a tweed jacket). Through the wild overuse of some serious anthropomorphising, hopefully this post will be a tiny bit more exciting than that (I say as I reach for my tartan slippers and my pedantic hat).

There is a terrible issue in today’s society that is being dealt with neither by politicians, social commentators, nor even the media, and I intend to rectify that by throwing the cold light of judgement on some serious cases of irresponsible abuse. Now, obviously, this issue is not quite as important or immediately pressing as, phone-hacking, or the Duchess of Cambridge painting a picture of a snail, but it is really really irritating.

The undeserving victims of this abuse are adverbs; those defenceless and yet vital words which add colour to our descriptions, emphasis to our statements, and authority to our voices. For centuries adverbs have helped us to quantify time, place, circumstance and certainty, and how have we repayed them? In recent years people have taken to bandying adverbs around with reckless abandon, apparently insensitive of the destructive consequences not only to the integrity of their own meaning but also to that of the adverbs themselves.

The first, and possibly most upsetting, of these cases is that of “literally”. I would wager that we’ve all heard someone, usually when recounting a particularly gripping story, that they “like, literally had a heart attack!” In fact, I may even go so far as to say that I’d bet a whole pound on it, because that’s the kind of reckless big spender I am and I’m just so damn sure about this.

I don’t want to point fingers or get personal but I will say that it is usually someone with big hair and a concerningly orange face. And to those people, I say this (well, I don’t actually say this out loud, obviously, I just smile and nod and die a little inside, but if I were more confident and less polite then I suppose I might say this):

I understand that you’re just trying to add a bit of flair to your story, and that you do after all need to convey the true peril of that time you thought Jack Wills had sold out of sweatpants. I get that, I really do. But that’s not what you’re doing. What you’re doing is talking bollocks, literally. Because if you had literally had a heart attack then you’d either be watching someone jab adrenaline into your chest as they prime the defibrilator, or down at the pharmacy collecting your prescription for beta blockers right about now. Clearly that has not happened because instead you are standing here annoying us all with your inaccurate grammar.

You see, the marvellous thing about the English language is that there are lots of different words. And funnily enough there is a word which says exactly what you mean in these sorts of situations. That word is “figuratively”, and it often gets tragically neglected. Because obviously, using the correct word to say what you actually mean is just not cool.

But how can they be persuaded to change their ways? You may mumble as you insert your protective gumshield that you’ve been advised to wear at night to stop you grinding your teeth down to the gums with all the pent-up frustration over grammar misuse. They are very unlikely to consider the impacts of their conversational style on our oral health. And this is true, yes, but do not dismay. We can always hope that one day the adverb will take its revenge.

One day someone may take their off-hand remark that they want to “literally shoot him in the face” in the context of its actual, grammatical meaning, and they may find themselves in somewhat of a tight spot as they are quickly surrounded by rapid-response S.W.A.T teams repelling down from a helicopter. Yeah, that does sound a bit unlikely to me too.

Alternatively, we can always hope that they find themselves with a genuine need to utter the words “guys, I’m literally having a heart attack” and no-one will take any notice because we’ll all be too busy guffawing with laughter and commenting on how much of a hoot they are because that story was so funny you just figuratively wet yourself.

But sadly, this abuse does not stop with “literally”. “Seriously” has also been taking a bit of a hammering at the hands of these dastardly repeat-offenders. This poor adverb is not so much misused as unecessarily overused. Unless you have big red shoes, a painted face, and your name is Chuckles, we’re not going to assume that everything you say is some hilarious, side-splitting wisecrack. We’re not going to giggle like imbeciles at every word that comes out of your mouth unless you remind us to be sensible about it, seriously.

If it’s true what they say and the pen is mightier than the sword then please, I implore you, stop waving your adverbs around willy-nilly or you’ll have someone’s eye out.


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