A Lesson in Less
Before I launch into a dyspeptic treatment of a particular phenomenon I’ve observed in the mechanics of writing, let me thank the hundreds of new subscribers to my newsletter who participated in a recent Booksweeps Crime Fiction and Thrillers giveaway contest. A warm welcome to all of you. Besides writing about the authorial activities of myself and other literary artisans, I expound on issues involved in the art of writing and two other passions: alternative health care and socio-political topics.
A dichotomy in written, and to some extent oral, English communication has been underway for years.
On the one hand is the impatient expression in acronyms and other word abbreviations, displayed most widely in Twitter, but also in general communication. (Nothing frustrates this scribe more than reading something with an acronym known only to the cognoscenti.)
On the other hand is the superfluous addition of punctuation marks and letters in words, all cluttering up text, rendering it less readable, without adding anything to its meaning. While newspapers, magazines, promotional literature for everything under the sun, sales brochures and fliers, and just about any other print materials sloppily indulge in this excess, it is just as prevalent in digital form and in broadcast communications.
An Important Point
Of late, two instances of excess in particular have been catching my attention – and annoying the heck out of me (a condition that arose out of 10 years as a magazine copyediting chief). One is conversion of certain adjectives to adverbs by adding ly. The most prominent example is the word important. When preceded by more or most, it almost always becomes importantly these days. Examples are in order.
“Even more importantly, I’ve seen that he works diligently with Spanish River’s teachers …,” was a recent quote in the Palm Beach Post. (Awkward sentence, but the meaning is clear.) It’s a bit confusing to parse this grammatical issue, and grammarians are not unanimous in their opinions, but the ly is, by any standard,
Here’s another, in a syndicated finance column: “More importantly, though, bigger Social Security checks serve as …” Again, important modifies the absent noun what: “What is more important, though, bigger …”
Let Ly-ing Adverbs Lie
But important is not the only adjective that communicators like to metamorphose into an ly adverb. A doctor wrote in an advertorial pertaining to the coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (got that?), “Perhaps most impressively, it has been very successful for almost 20 years in drug and alcohol detoxification.” Same principle here. Get out your scalpel, doc, and slice that ly off of impressive. It’s about as useful as the appendix. Thus: “Perhaps what’s most impressive, it has been …”
Another, from an online treatise by People for the American Way, needs more invasive surgery: “More specifically, the legislation will …” Here, ally is a nuisance, not an ally. More specific suffices quite well.
The second prominent occupant of my peevery file (I just made that up; don’t try it at home) is somewhat related to the first, in that the adverbial appendix (why am I waxing anatomical?) ly again is an important feature. To wit: the insertion of a hyphen to connect an ly adverb with an adjective modifying a noun. The practice is as ubiquitous as that other abomination, more importantly.
“I’ve discussed these synthetically-produced cannabinoids with you before, and it’s a promising field,” the Cannabis IPO Insider newsletter declared. And while I’m high on this subject, here’s what the Nova-X Report newsletter predicted: “It won’t be long until we’re seeing hemp-derived, environmentally-conscious items everywhere.” Uh-huh, just as we see the unneeded hyphen everywhere. Ubiquity, ubiquity, all is ubiquity, saith the preacher, i.e., me. Oh my, I can’t stop; I must be stoned: “Germany has awarded contracts to supply domestically-grown cannabis to two Canadian companies,” Reuters reported.
None of these three examples needed a hyphen. Thus, it’s synthetically produced cannabinoids, environmentally conscious items, and domestically grown cannabis. Why?
Because the purpose of the hyphen is to show that, in each case, the ly adverb modifies the adjective and not the noun. But it’s obvious the adverb goes with the adjective. You couldn’t have synthetically cannabinoids, could you? Or environmentally items, or domestically cannabis? It wouldn’t make sense. Sheesh!
Here are some more examples of this superfluous hyphen:
From the Money Map Press: “We’re moving quickly towards (another excess; should be toward) the era of connected cars, when autonomously-controlled vehicles will …”
James J. Kilpatrick
An ABC News headline: “Formerly-banned pain blocker now legal again after 80 years!” (Just when I was coming down from my high, another cannabis reference.)
And these three items, all in a single physician’s newsletter (actually, she might be married – a single newsletter by a physician): naturally-occurring compound; specially-coated test strips; individually-packaged test strips. The hyphen is unneeded in all three.
Enough already! I have a pile of other specimens to discuss in what the late, renowned newspaperman/author James J. Kilpatrick described as The Court of Peeves, Crochets and Irks. I’ll get to those by-and-by, but suffice it to say for now that one of his favorite writing dictums was: “Less is more.”