Today I'm going to take a page from Bonnie's book (Bonnie being our Editorial Director and resident grammarian) to talk to you about something that's been annoying me lately: contradictory descriptions.
Contrary descriptions, by which I mean incorrectly used adjectives and adverbs, seem to be everywhere lately, and they're driving me crazy.
According to a current commercial running on CBC, the Globe and Mail recently described one of the network's new shows as "quietly hilarious." Can something be "quietly" hilarious? The Canadian Oxford dictionary describes hilarious as "exceedingly funny" and "boisterously merry." It seems to me that by modifying hilarious with the adverb "quietly," you completely change the meaning of hilarious. In which case, shouldn't you just use a different word? One that means what you actually want to say?
If you object to that example, let me just say that it's far from the worst out there. Consider the popular song "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Released way back in 1983, it remains a radio standard, and I'm sure you've heard it before, if only as a joke. Think about the lyrics — that repeating line "every now and then I get a little bit terrified."
I'm sorry to be a stickler, but one simply CANNOT be "a little bit" terrified. I'll accept "a little bit" frightened, or "a little bit nervous." But terror is an extreme state, okay? The word terrified already modifies the idea of fear. It's meant to evoke an image of intensity. As a result, the description "a little bit terrified" makes absolutely no sense. Sure, it's just a line in a pop song, but it's also an example of one of the many ways in which English is being mangled in popular culture on a daily basis.
The Oxford dictionary estimates that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words. In other words, there are plenty of words out there to choose from. Make a pledge to try to use the right ones whenever possible. You'll sound smarter and you'll avoid alienating folks such as me.
The grammar police aren't popular, but we're always watching.
Header image copiled by Nyman Ink. Body image: scan of cover art from Bonnie Tyler's hit single "Total Eclipse of the Heart."