Monday, August 10, 2015

Caught in the "Very" Trap

C. Neuroticus Absolutus

For at least two centuries, pundits and critics have attacked adverbs as if they were the embodiment of the anti-Christ. My memory doesn’t permit a scan that far into the past, but I know a few things about the last 60 years of the last century. For example, the get-rid-of-all-the-adverbs in your writing movement, especially the intensifiers very, really and their ilk.
I know, for example that, in general, the generations following mine don’t know an adjective from an adverb and think it’s all right to interchange them.
For example, check out the simple answer to the question, “How are you?”
The reply used most often is usually, “I’m good,” to which Joey Tribbiani from the TV show Friends, replies, “Yeah, baby!”
Of course, good is an adjective/adverb and is perhaps acceptable in this usage. But somewhere in my past I learned that the word how begs an adverb in response, so that I want to say, “I’m well,” if you are concerned about my health. Then again, Webster’s tell me that the adjectival form of good means: healthy; strong; vigorous. So, darn that Webster guy! Guess I’ll have to forgive you for this one! And how did I ever learn even a smattering of English (American, actually).
But then, check out good ole Charlie Brown from Peanuts when he says, “Good grief!” Charlie’s usage of good in this case is an interjection! Arrrrgh!
I have deviated from my original intent of demonstrating why the deletion of the adverb very requires a modicum of restraint on the writer’s part. Don’t Find/Replace every very in your manuscript. The current approach is to get rid of very when used as an intensifier. The advice is to find another word that is stronger in meaning and replace both the word and the intensifier very. An example might be: To Kill a Mockingbird is a very good book. Forget the very good and replace it to read, To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent book.
It looks simple, doesn’t it? But . . .writers beware! Sometimes very is the very best word for the sentence. Here’s the possible trap I mentioned in the title. “I like you very much.” Well, this example requires a writer who possesses nerves of steel and great emotional control. If you remove very in this instance, you might be tempted to say, “I love you.” But do you really, really want your character to go out on that limb? Into that trap? In this case, very is appropriate if your character isn’t ready to go over the bridge to love. You might say it is very important!
Then there are gems that are better off let alone. Check out the sentences below.
“Expect more of yourself. Expect the very best,” Steve Jobs said.
“When you expect the very best,” Maxwell House Coffee commercials implore.
The Very Thought of You. Song by composer Ray Noble.
The very idea! (Can’t do much for this one. It expresses indignation in a snobbish way.)
“Very well, Sir!” the sailor said to his captain.
‘Oh, well,” she said with a sigh.
“Believe it or not, he’s the very one she married!”
The very ground opened up beneath them.
She gasped in disbelief. Emily and Susan wore the very same dress!
As you can see, very is a very useful workhorse when you need just the right word to express what’s on your creative mind. Don’t let the anti-adverbalites get the better of you!
Write what you want to write. It’s your style and your work. But regardless what you do, someone will criticize. If that scares you, you’ll never get a word from your mind to the page.

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