blogging


Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

Like most people who write for a living, I have fierce convictions about the right and wrong ways to use words. Most of the time I keep them to myself; nobody likes being nagged by a grammar nanny. It’s boring and annoying to be — or to listen to — the pedantic style police.

But I’ve run out of patience with people using adverbs as insidious tools for marketing and propaganda. That misuse of language has made me so angry that the constant pain of biting my tongue has forced me to stop keeping my mouth shut.

So what follows is a rant to relieve my own frustration on why I hate adverbs. I hope, at the least, it will make you question words harder before you use them.

In shunning adverbs whenever I can, I’m in good company.

Mark Twain disliked them:

I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me….

this is her demon, the adverb is mine….

I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more, I won’t.

 

Stephen King dislikes them:

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.

And as for me, I really, truly, actually, literally dislike adverbs.

No: I hate them.

The simplest search-and-destroy mission — annihilate adverbs on sight — reveals them to be what they are. If parts of speech were foods, adverbs would be Twinkies: insipid, empty calories pumped full of air.

Look what happens when you delete the adverbs from my sentence above, “And as for me, I really, truly, actually, literally dislike adverbs”: You force yourself to justify the verb dislike and to ask why, if it is the right word, you needed to upholster it with all those modifiers in the first place.

The answer: because it wasn’t the right word. It wasn’t strong enough in its own right. Pick a hotter verb — hate instead of dislike — and the need for the adverbs falls away. The action speaks for itself once you figure out what it is that you were trying to say.

It isn’t that adverbs are never necessary. It’s that they are so rarely necessary and so often misused.

(Yes, I know: Never, rarely, and often are adverbs. Here, I’m using adverbs deliberately!)

But adverbs aren’t just chronically misused. They are intentionally abused.

Because they are emphasis words, dragooned into place as reinforcements for language and ideas that would otherwise be too feeble to defend themselves, adverbs are often a signal that someone is trying to deceive or manipulate you. At a minimum, adverbs should put you on notice as a reader that the evidence isn’t convincing enough to hold itself up without an adverbial crutch.

Look at this example:

He is truly a legend in his own time.

Now parse it by deleting the adverb and using basic skills of critical thinking to interrogate what’s left of the sentence:

He is truly a “legend in his own time.”

  • According to whom?
  • What does it mean to be a “legend in your own time”?
  • Who measures or determines how famous you have to be to qualify?
  • If the person is as famous as you imply, why do you have to remind your readers that he’s a legend?
  • And isn’t “legend in his own time” just a cliché anyway?

Look what has happened here. The adverb, a lexical wave of the hand intended to convince you without supporting evidence, is the weakest link in the sentence. Yank it out, and the whole sentence comes apart and falls clanking to the ground.

“Truly” is there as marketing, not meaning — to get you to suspend your disbelief about something that is at best unproven (or unprovable) and at worst untrue. A sign in the window of the restaurant declaring “TRULY THE BEST PIZZA IN TOWN” is telling you to prepare for a bad case of indigestion.

Thus, the ultimate reason I hate adverbs is because they so often mean the opposite of what they imply. Actually, certainly, clearly, obviously, really: All are noodge words, wielded by writers who are either too lazy to find a better way to make the point or too deceptive to use honest verbs and nouns that can stand on their own without being propped up.

The only way to see if a word is indispensable is to eliminate it and see whether you miss it. Try this exercise yourself:

  • Take any sentence containing “actually” or “literally” or any other abstract adverb, written by anyone ever.
  • Delete that adverb.
  • See if the sentence loses one iota of force or meaning.
  • I’d be amazed if it does (if so, please let me know).

Concrete adverbs, such as wildly or coldly, inject specificity into sentences. Conceptual adverbs like truly or really drain the vividness out of sentences, replacing it with unsubstantiated claims you have to take on faith alone.

Here’s my translation of what adverbs purport to mean, and what they do mean.

Even the way people use adverbs in everyday speech shows how weak many of these words have become in common usage. To make them work at all anymore, you have to festoon them with irony and air quotes. Think of how “absolutely” has mutated into “absof*ckinglutely,” or how people say “I literally died laughing” to mean “I literally didn’t die laughing.”

I would never advise you, of course, to avoid using adverbs completely! The world’s greatest writers have all used them. Added judiciously, appropriately and, above all, sparingly, adverbs make good writing great. Used lazily, mindlessly or deceptively, adverbs turn into neurotoxins that numb the minds of readers — and of many writers, too.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

On May 24, 1976, the Judgment of Paris pitted some of the finest wines in France against unknown California bottles in a blind taste test. Nine of the most respected names in French gastronomy sat in judgment.

It was the tasting that revolutionized the wine world.

Forty years ago today, the crème de la crème of the French wine establishment sat in judgment for a blind tasting that pitted some of the finest wines in France against unknown California bottles. Only one journalist bothered to show up — the outcome was considered a foregone conclusion.

“Obviously, the French wines were going to win,” says George Taber, who was then a correspondent for Time magazine in Paris. He says everyone thought “it’s going to be a nonstory.”

Taber did attend, as a favor to the organizers. And he ended up getting the biggest story of his career: To everyone’s amazement, the California wines — red and white — beat out their French competitors.

“It turned out to be the most important event, because it broke the myth that only in France could you make great wine. It opened the door for this phenomenon today of the globalization of wine,” Taber says.

The Judgment of Paris, as that May 24, 1976, wine tasting has come to be known, began as a publicity stunt. Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop in Paris, wanted to drum up business. So, prompted by Patricia Gallagher, his American associate, Spurrier decided to stage a competition that highlighted the new California wines they’d been hearing so much about.

Spurrier tapped nine of the most respected names in French gastronomy for the job. They included sommeliers from the best French restaurants in Paris, the head of a highly regarded French vineyard, and Odette Kahn, the editor of the influential Revue du vin de France (The French Wine Review).

As the sole journalist present, Taber had a lot of access, and he had a list of the order of the wines being served during the tasting. The judges didn’t. He watched as they swirled and spat.

At one point, Taber says, a judge — Raymond Oliver, chef and owner of Le Grand Véfour, one of Paris’ great restaurants — sampled a white. “And then he smelled it, then he tasted it and he held it up again, [and] he said, “Ah, back to France!” Taber recalls.

Patricia Gallagher (from left), who first proposed the tasting; wine merchant Steven Spurrier; and influential French wine editor Odette Kahn. After the results were announced, Kahn is said to have demanded her scorecard back. “She wanted to make sure that the world didn’t know what her scores were,” says George Taber, the only journalist present that day.

Except it was a Napa Valley chardonnay. The judge didn’t know that. “But I knew,” Taber says. And once he realized what was happening, Taber says, “I thought, hey, maybe I got a story here.” Decades later, he penned The Judgment of Paris, an account of that day and its aftermath.

When the scores were tallied, the top honors went not to France’s best vintners but to a California white and red — the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. (A bottle of each now resides at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.)

Taber says the results shocked everyone. When it was over, Kahn unsuccessfully demanded her scorecard back — according to Taber, “she wanted to make sure that the world didn’t know what her scores were.”

Wine writer David White says the tasting was a major turning point for the industry. “The 1976 judgment totally changed the game,” says White, who runs the popular wine blog Terroirist and is the author of the forthcoming book But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine.

While winemaker Robert Mondavi played a major role in making California the wine powerhouse it is today, the Paris tasting was equally influential, White says. As the late Jim Barrett, part owner of Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena, told Taber back in 1976, the results were “not bad for kids from the sticks.”

And it wasn’t just California that was transformed. The results “gave winemakers everywhere a reason to believe that they too could take on the greatest wines in the world,” White says.

In the aftermath of the tasting, new vineyards bloomed around the U.S. (think Oregon, Washington and Virginia) and the world — from Argentina to Australia.

The Judgment of Paris prompted the world’s winemakers to start sharing and comparing in a way they hadn’t done before, says Warren Winiarski, the Polish-American founder of Stag’s Leap, whose cabernet sauvignon took top honors among the reds in Paris.

As a result, he said at a recent Smithsonian event in honor of that long-ago tasting, “the wines of the world are better, the wines of France are better.”

Which means the world’s wine lovers were the real winners that day.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

I have 18 acres of land that currently has no purpose other than providing a very pretty view.

I’m looking at Alpacas, both for the value of their fur, which is a once a year proposition and their grass eating capabilities. The land is quite steep and hence has limited uses other than some form of livestock. I’m not a chap that could send anything off to be killed, so it has to be that the chaps will be grazing on the grass long-term.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

I woke up today, with nothing to do. No studying for degrees or courses, no trial prep, no work. This is the first day, in 4.5 years, that I have nothing to do today.

Obviously I am going to ride the bike if the weather holds, the past 2 days have been glorious, so fingers crossed.

Tomorrow I’m back to work, so I’ll enjoy today.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

We have finished all the witnesses. This was completed yesterday, today, we give oral and written closing submissions.

I have been up pretty much all night finishing and referencing the submissions.

We have a pretty good case, and we did win the first case, so I am hopeful that we can make it home once again.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

So yesterday was day 1 of the trial.

Opposing counsel had written opening submissions, which she read. I on the other hand had memorised my opening submissions and presented them orally. The Judge seemed to like that.

My client was the first witness to give evidence. No matter how much you coach them prior to this, something always goes wrong.

Anyway, stuff went wrong when the opposing counsel cross-examined. I had stuff to fix during the re-examination and I was dancing a fine line between legitimate re-examination and re-leading evidence-in-chief. I got away with it, I was challenged twice, but fought off both objections.

That was the tough part of the case for me. Cross examination of the opposing witnesses is always easier.

I’m still trying to finish closing submissions.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 4.55.47 PM

I am in court all week defending a decision that I won a year ago in the Employment Authority. The case is scheduled to last all week, possibly extending into next week. I think that we will probably manage to conclude it this week.

I’m currently working on my closing submissions. All last week I was at work, trying to earn back some of the money I had lost during the completion of the ‘Legal Professionals’ course, more on that another day.

So, of course I am behind schedule, which is why I was up at 0300hrs typing up submissions that I have been working on all w/e.

I work better in the mornings, I know after a day in court [today] I won’t be in any state to write coherent submissions, therefore, some early mornings for me this week until they are complete. Not too far off.

Next Page »