Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bury your Adjectives

Doug Chaplin at Metacatholic has stimulated me to think about why I hate adjectives. Most recently, my dislike was prompted by a vague appeal to the word Biblical - as if such a modifier would prove anything.

I have considered several reasons.

  • Adjectives divide - they create parochialism and xenophobia
  • Adjectives are like an ellipsis that has been filled in - they do the work the reader should do
  • Adjectives substitute for reality - they make us think we have an answer
  • Adjectives put us in a box - they prevent maturing
I think adjectives are the skin of the fruit of that forbidden tree. Compost them and they will nourish the ground in their death. In any case, when you read one, consider its opposite. When you write one, see if a verb will do the job.

Adverbs are not different. My teachers told me to search for all words ending in -ly and eliminate them. Often just by deleting them, you will improve the text.

Here's a pair that is to be buried: totally depraved. Bury it along with your own knowledge of good and evil in the tomb of Christ Jesus (of course). Then you will see the fruit that is on the other side of the gate.


James F. McGrath said...

I strongly disagree... ;-)

Bob MacDonald said...

I am pleased to have a record of such illustrious disagreement. I see that Henry is picking on the same concept under a different label.