Adverbial Adversarial

Author: Nola Published: over 3 years ago.
Tags: humour, fiction, adverbs Category: Short story

The Christmas decorations in Professor Clarke’s office belied the hostility simmering below the surface.

“What’s so wrong with using a few adverbs?” Miranda enquired anxiously as she looked at the blue editorial marks all over her assignment.

“Adverbs are a sure sign of amateur writing,” the professor said as he adjusted his bifocals.

“But surely they convey extra meaning,” Miranda argued dogmatically.

“There are better ways of doing that. You could use stronger verbs.”

“Stronger verbs?” Miranda asked pointedly.

“Let me give some examples.” The professor tapped his pencil on the desk. “Instead of ‘he ran quickly’, you could say ‘he sprinted’. Instead of ‘she walked slowly’, you could say ‘she strolled’. Do you see what I mean?”

“Well, I can see what you mean, but I don’t know why one is better than the other,” Miranda said defiantly. “If two expressions mean the same thing, surely it’s a matter of personal taste.”

“On the contrary,” the professor said. “It’s up to the literary establishment to determine what’s best for the English language. Otherwise someone could publish a version of A Christmas Carol punctuated with text messages and emoticons.”

“Ah ha”, Miranda exclaimed triumphantly. “Charles Dickens used adverbs. Scrooge is always saying things indignantly, while his nephew counters gaily. No-one seems to mind that!”

“But those terms are outdated,” the professor said. “You have to choose each word carefully.”

“You’ve used one now,” Miranda said accusingly.

“Used one what?” The professor was starting to look flustered.

“Carefully. It’s an adverb. Why didn’t you use a stronger verb?”

Little red blotches started to appear on the professor’s throat as he searched for a suitable retort. “Revision”, he said at last. “If that sentence had appeared in a manuscript, I would have put a blue line through the offending word in the revision.” He crossed his arms assertively.

“You’ve done it again.” Miranda jutted her chin out victoriously.

“There were no adverbs in that last sentence.” The red splotches from his neck rose to his face.

“You crossed your arms assertively didn’t you?”

“But that’s not part of the dialogue!”

“It’s part of the story, so it should jolly well count,” Miranda said definitively.

“No no, you don’t get it,” the professor said categorically while jumping up and down rambunctiously and loosening his tie distractedly.

“You’ve done it again,” Miranda noted annoyingly. “I think it’s catching.”

That was too much for the professor. He clutched his throat, fell against the Christmas tree and crashed onto the floor in a cascade of tinsel and fir needles. His secretary rushed in, confirmed there was still a pulse, and glanced at Miranda. “Dangling participles?” the secretary asked.

“Adverbs,” Miranda replied – softly, deliberately, menacingly.

Published in: Bell, C., Ham, Y., Worthing, M, & Cooper, J. (Eds.). (2012). Tales from the Upper Room Vol. 7: Christmas Tales. Adelaide: Pantaenus Press, pp. 9-10.