Zack de la Roche -- of Rage Against the Machine fame -- spots one too many adverbs on a fan's sign during a recent concert.

 

Adjectives and adverbs. There’s a lot of them out there! How many are there in the English language? 

According to some unscholarly research on the interwebs, “There is no single sensible answer to this question.” According to more unscholarly research on the interwebs, I’d say roughly a quarter of the half million words in the English language are adjectives and adverbs. As an editor who’s read most of them at one point or another (and as a writer who’s invented a bunch), I’m a fan of descriptors. 

Who wouldn’t be? Were it not for them, it’d be a bland world. Wait, check that … it wouldn’t even be bland; it’d just be a world. 

Chemicals in concert? Tight.

 

When we write, we try to convey stuff. That’s where adjectives and adverbs — among other things — come in: 

“So, how was the Chemical Brothers concert at the discothèque, Edwin?”
“Tré, it was ON! They had the freshest, jammin’-est, funky, tight, hot grooves that you ever heard!”
“Oh, word? That’s tight.” 

You can almost smell the hype in Edwin’s description, can’t you? (Or is that the stale cigarette smoke and Davidoff cologne?) That’s what happens when we overuse descriptors: hype. Sure Edwin gets an A for effort, but it’s too much. And that’s what we want to stay away from. We also want to stay away from a subpar description, too — the kind that inevitably ends in “Well, I guess you kinda had to be there.” 

So what’re we to do? Going the route of the writer, you can write and then rewrite. And then rewrite. Find a couple adjectives or adverbs that you like. Mull them over, even if your deadline argues otherwise. To write clearly also depends heavily on thorough planning. If pressed for time, exhale a short list and quickly strike all but one: “Our panelists address fresh/interesting/top-of-mind/relevant/current topics.” 

I’m not saying I know for certain that relevant is the best adjective for this given situation, but you do as the writer. You know the best adjective to use and the adjectives to discard. It’s up to you to do it. Just follow Tré’s example above. 

The Delete key is just inches away from your right pinky. Use it. It can only help to make your — and our collective — voice clearer.

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