Archive for adjectives

Invented facts from the Vicar of St. Bene't's, part 2

The Reverend Angela Tilby ended her scandalously unresearched little "Thought for the Day" talk of 1 October 2009 (part of which I have already discussed in this recent post) by suggesting that during the British political party conference season (i.e., right about now) we should try taking a blue pencil and editing out all the adjectives from the political speeches so that we could "see what is really being said about people, places, things, deeds and actions". She holds to the ancient nonsense about how nouns tell us the people, places, and things while verbs give us the deeds and actions but adjectives give us nothing but qualifications and hot air and spin — they contribute no content. And she is clearly implying that she (cynically) expects political speeches to be full of adjectives. But as before, she hasn't done any checking at all, she has just spouted her conjectures straight into the microphone. So let's try a second breakfast experiment, shall we?

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Invented facts from the Vicar of St. Bene't's, part 1

"Thought for the Day" is a four-minute reflective sermon delivered each morning on BBC Radio 4 at about ten to eight by some representative of one of the country's many religious faiths. On the first day of October the speaker was the Reverend Angela Tilby, Vicar of St Bene't's in Cambridge, England. (Bene't is an archaic shortened form of Benedict.) Developing a familiar theme from prescriptivist literature, she preached against adjectives. It was perhaps the most pathetic little piece of inspirational prattle I have ever heard from the BBC (read the whole misbegotten text here).

"Adjectives advertise," claims the Rev. Tilby, and "brighten up the prose of officialdom", but she was always "encouraged to be a bit suspicious" of them when she was a girl: "Rules of syntax kept them firmly in their place" (as if the rules of syntax left everything else to do what it wanted!). This was good, she seems to think, because "For all their flamboyance they don't really tell you much." Adjectives "float free of concrete reality" like balloons, and are guilty of "not delivering anything except, perhaps, hot air." Which aptly describes her babbling thus far. But now, inflated with overconfidence, she risks some factual statements. And steps from the insubstantial froth of metaphor into the stodgy bullshit of unchecked empirical claims about language use.

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