Funerals for adjectives

In a letter to D.W. Bowser, dated March 20, 1880, Mark Twain said, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” (Mark Twain quotation from

 Modern editors embrace Twain’s instructions as though the idea originated in 2010, not 1880.  They slay the adjective dragons with ferocity as they climb to the top of the hill. They push adjective into trenches with adverbs, those -ly words, that they have also buried. If nouns and verbs stand up to their respective jobs, we’re told, descriptive adjectives and adverbs must be buried. Before I plan funerals for my favorite descriptive adjectives and adverbs, history warns me that new writing rules surface as often as new editorial leaders. Rather than kill my favorite adjectives and adverbs, I’ll keep them in protective witness program until it’s safe for them to be sprinkled in my novel, like wildflowers that blossom on a sunny, spring day.


Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s