Important Only to the Grouch
The subject for discussion today may not seem important, but to The Grammar Grouch, it certainly is annoying. Most important, it’s a phraseology that is becoming ever more prevalent.
Most important? Surely I meant most importantly. No, damn it, I didn’t. And the only reason anyone would think the ly has to be there is that the adverb is almost always chosen these days over the adjective. Most importantly and more importantly are ubiquitous. Seldom does one hear or read most important or more important.
Why is that? Some, including the highly referenced Grammar Girl, deem it pompous and pretentious to add the ly. It’s not needed, any more than preventative needs that ta; preventive means exactly the same thing.Here’s an example from an investment newsletter: “It’s designed to make the trades more predictable, easy-to-understand, and most importantly … profitable.” Most importantly is an abbreviation of “what is most important,” with important functioning as an adjective modifying it (It is designed), or what, which refers to it. Or something like that. It’s a little nebulous.
The most important thing is that the ly is completely unnecessary, or shall I say: Most important, the ly is completely unnecessary.
Investment newsletters don’t have a monopoly on this grating usage, but their writers don’t seem to have as good a command of English as do newspaper journalists. “I know how to avoid trouble,” says one investment guy. “But more importantly, I know how to profit from it.” Same principle: “But more important” works best.
In recent days, two newspaper stories showed that their writers were up to speed on this discursive nicety. Anthony Chiang, a sportswriter for the Palm Beach Post, wrote on Dec. 23, referring to a Miami Heat player, “More important, he did it on 10-of-16 shooting …” Hurrah for my old stomping grounds.
On the same day, New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin … Speaking of excess, is that middle name necessary? How many Andrew Sorkins can there be? I guess a middle name makes it sound more importantly – I mean, more important. But I digress. Sorkin wrote, “The idea is that an investment isn’t just intended to score a high return; perhaps more important, it is supposed to make a significant difference in an area that had been considered un-investable.”
Andy, you were doing great until that last word. There is no reason to stick a hyphen in uninvestable, any more than there is justification for slapping an ly on most important or more important. Of course, that could have been a copy editor’s miscue.
So those are the uplifting examples in this lamentation. I like to Accentuate the Positive, as the song says. What, you never heard of it? Young whippersnappers … (the Grammar Grouch is starting to grouse). “You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, eliminate the negative …” Bing Crosby, 1945.
Now on to the negative, which I began with before getting sidetracked in my effort to be uplifting in this holiday season of good will. I wouldn’t have to be so doggone cranky if writers and speakers would get it right.
Here’s something from the internet (where else these days?). It was a piece about the protests that erupted after Donald Trump won the election. The demonstrations “sparked dozens of media stories and a multitude of social media posts. More importantly, they couldn’t be ignored by the Republican Congressional staffers inside the offices.” Hmmm … Do you suppose the Republican Congressional staffers would ignore me if I staged a protest against more importantly? Maybe they would draft legislation banning it.
Even Michael Moore, the humblest, most unpretentious person in the world, has gotten caught up in this loathsome phrase. He wrote on October 25, “But just as importantly, we need to flip the Senate this year and elect progressive champions up and down the ballot who can keep the Democratic establishment on its feet.”
Most important, it didn’t happen.