Letter Cry

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 5, 2008

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I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. Having to constantly be on the lookout for every undiagrammable sentence to come out of Sarah Palin's mouth is hard work. But thank God, the election's over. Time to get through some mail that's piled up.

My sweet boyfriend claims to be a grammar stickler, but he always says "real good," "real soon," etc., instead of "really." How can I get him to stop?

You can't. Because he's right.

Some grammar mavens will protest, but "real" is perfectly acceptable as a freestanding adjective. And the Oxford English Dictionary agrees, listing "really, genuinely, very, extremely" all as legit definitions. Sounds like a real good defense to me.

With apologies to Tom Lehrer, adverbs have been dropping their "-ly"s for a long time. "Dig deep," "Walk slow," "Turn the music up loud"--all allowed.

As usual, Merriam-Webster's is a little flakier on the issue. They give "real" an adverb listing, but qualify it with a disclaimer that it's mostly okay when spoken but kinda sorta not really okay when written.

Why should it matter if it's spoken or written? The OED cites written examples of "real" as an adverb back to the 17th century. If "Google" can make it into the dictionary as a verb (which it has), I think we're safe writing "real good."

"Momentarily": for a moment, or in a moment?

Why discriminate? It works both ways.

The adjective form "momentary" is less versatile: It means that something happens for only a moment. But "momentarily" is a fun-loving, free-spirited adjective, and can be used as "for a moment" ("my judgment momentarily lapsed") or "in a moment" ("the show should begin momentarily").

Department of Redundancy Department: "close proximity"? This always bothered me because to me the word "proximate" means "the state of being near," n'est-ce pas?

Absolument. It gets even closer than that: Merriam-Webster's lists "closeness" as a definition for "proximity." So it's redundant to say "close proximity," which is indeed redundant.

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