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  • Writer's picturethebrinkof

Enough! Leave “well” alone.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” And God was and is everywhere. And so is the word “well” – so much so that you’d think it had some divine quality.

Why does everyone express the degrees of adjectives such as “known” by including the word “well”?


George Will

I’m not talking about George Will, the conservative columnist who is known using the word approximating his name as a pithy (no, I didn’t lisp, but the nonlisped slang term would apply), satirical, condescending response to some idea or opinion for which he harbors contempt. For example: “Progressives think spending money to repair the nation’s infrastructure would help the economy. Well.” (I made that up, but you get the idea.)

No, I refer to the pairing of “well” with superlatives or comparatives that modify verbs. Here is an example in a letter-to-the-editor in the Palm Beach Post: “Less well known is that apparently six other IRS computer hard drives crashed in exactly the same time frame.”

old water well

All is well, and that ain’t good

There is no difference between “less well-known” and “less known.” The word “well” is superfluous, redundant, unncessary. I wax redundant to emphasize the point. I must qualify that assertion, however. It might be argued that something is well-known, just not as well-known as something else, in which case it is, indeed, less well-known. But the distinction is almost negligible. And I don’t remember ever encountering such a situation. 

Here’s a newspaper review of a musical: “In contrast, perhaps because the songs are less well known … .” Again, “well” is unnecessary.

Well gone

Sometimes “well” can be eliminated by changing the adverb modifying it to another adverb. An ex-infantry officer wrote in a review of Philip Caputo’s superb, thoroughly acclaimed novel from 1977, A Rumor of War: “The result is the most well written account of life in an infantry platoon in Vietnam that I have ever read.” The same meaning would have been conveyed with the phrase “the best-written account.” Here, “most” is changed to “best,” modifying “written,” so that “well” no longer is needed as a modifier of “written.” Just toss it down the — well, well.

three wells

#GeorgeWill #ARumorofWar #PhilipCaputo #PalmBeachPost #God

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