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18 Februar 2005 @ 13:47
Telling right from wrong  

If I pick on the Toronto Star often, you must not imagine that this is because I think it a poor newspaper; on the contrary, it is because it is the only one I care to subscribe to. (I did recently reduce my subscription to six days a week, because I don't like the newly redesigned Sunday Star—I find the new format annoying (no text on the front pages of the sections?!) and the content insipid (three full pages on the rise and fall of Michael Jackson? No thanks; if I wanted tabloid drivel in broadsheet format I'd read the National Putz (which I will do when pigs fly))—but from Monday to Saturday it's a fine paper.)

Having used up a month's supply of parentheses at one go, I think I'd better start a new paragraph now. The point is, I'm about to pick on the Star again. Here's Peter Howell, reviewing a movie about a dog named after a chain of grocery stores in the southeastern United States:

"It's a good story," says pint-sized protagonist Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) in voiceover narration. "Let me tell it right."

Grammarians may shudder at this introduction to Because of Winn-Dixie, Wayne Wang's torpid and vapid screen adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's popular children's book. But truth seekers and film lovers have even more reason to bridle.

Truth seekers and film lovers, it seems to me, could hardly have less reason to bridle, or to shudder, than grammarians. What the hell is Howell talking about? There is absolutely nothing for a grammarian—even a grouchy prescriptivist grammarian—to object to in the two sentences he quotes.

I have two hypotheses about what happened here:

  1. There was a grammatical error of some sort in the original quotation, but it was helpfully corrected by a proofreader at the Star.
  2. Howell thinks that "Let me tell it right" is ungrammatical, because he is under the delusion that all adverbs must end in -ly.

Somehow, I'm inclined to give the proofreaders the benefit of the doubt, and lay the blame on Howell. But does he really shudder, or even imagine that anyone might shudder, at this use of right? It's neither non-standard nor innovative; a quick look at the OED (s.v. right, adv.) turns up the relevant sense under heading III.13.a.: "In a proper or fitting manner; in the required or necessary way; properly; duly, aright," with examples from sources as old as Beowulf and as dignified as Coverdale's Bible (Judges 12:6: "They bad him saye: Schiboleth, & he sayde: Siboleth, & coulde not speake it righte").

I'll concede that I probably wouldn't use right in this sense in formal writing—I'd probably go for something along the lines of properly instead. But I wouldn't use contractions in formal writing, either, and I don't suppose Howell objects to Opal's use of it's—he uses the same contraction himself three times in the course of the review. Both it's and right are entirely appropriate to the conversational register in which Opal appears to be speaking, and I expect she would sound a bit stilted if she said, "It is a good story. Let me tell it properly."

Of course, there's always hypothesis 3: Howell objects to something else entirely in Opal's first nine words, and I've missed his point. If you have any idea what it might be, perhaps you can set me right.

Tishiewahooweena on 19. Februar, 2005 20:28 (UTC)
So what are we really asking when we say, "How are you?" Are we asking about health in particular? I'm not. I'm asking something more like, "How are things with you?"

Perhaps I'll start replying, "The opposite of bad, thanks. And you?"
Tishiewahooweena on 19. Februar, 2005 20:29 (UTC)
I swear I replied under your reply to me!
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 20. Februar, 2005 10:10 (UTC)

I don't think the question is primarily about health; to the extent that it's anything more than merely phatic, I agree with your intuition that it's a more general, "How are things with you?" sort of question.

Just watch out for people who think the correct response is "The opposite of badly."