A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Growing Vocabulary And The Poor, Extinct Adverbs

“I was late for the bus this morning, so I sat up and got out of bed quickly, ran down the stairs fast, and closed the door hard behind me when I went out. When I finally got on the bus, I pulled my backpack down roughly onto my lap.”
            What’s wrong with that little anecdote? Nothing, grammatically. It follows all the rules we were taught in Language Arts as kids. So why does it sound so…wrong to us English speakers?
            You probably realized it in the time it took me to start writing that paragraph, but it’s this: The verbs modified with adverbs are long-winded replacements of stronger verbs we use. The paragraph, using standard verbs, would go this way:
            “I was late for the bus this morning, so I jumped out of bed, sprinted down the stairs, and slammed the door behind me when I went out. When I finally got on the bus, I yanked my backpack down onto my lap.”
            Verbs like “yanked” and “sprinted” have negated the need to modify verbs with adverbs. This is why you rarely hear adverbs used in speech – the quicker-to-say verbs have delegated them to use only by poets and authors. Here’s just a couple:
“walk lazily” = “saunter”
“push hard” = “shove”
“sing deeply and loudly” = “belt”
            The interesting thing to me about these verbs is that some of them run on a strength continuum – each word denotes a similar action, but the force of that action is changed by the word used. (Nudge-Push-Shove, Jog-Run-Sprint). Sure, each of the words brings to mind subtle differences in the action, but they’re still relatively the same.
            But now the interest: This is not the case for some verbs. Some “stronger” verbs run along a metaphorical continuum rather than a literal one of strength. Take the above example of “jumping out of bed”. I hear this expression all the time, “jumping” being used for ‘standing quickly/energetically’, or ‘sitting up and standing quickly/energetically’. I cannot physically jump out of my bed, by the traditional definition of “jumping”, without some serious martial arts training. But the use of these metaphorical verbs is just so ingrained into our speech that it looks odd to most of us when we see literal explanations of the word.
            Metaphor. It’s a dang powerful thing.

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