Being Wrong while Trying to be Right

As an English major I spent some time around grammar snobs. Since I was more into the creative writing side of the major I never really cared about the rules, but being with those sorts of people made me at least aware of them.

One of the things that always makes me smile with language are those times when people change their natural instinct for a word and substitute a word that they feel is more correct. Sometimes this is a good thing, but sometimes it is a case of trying to sound smart, but ultimately being wrong. Let me give you some examples:

In the south lots of people pronounce humble without the H sound at the beginning. I found myself even doing so for a while thinking that it was a work like herb and that I was sounding like a fool for using the H. Then I did a little digging and found out that it wasn’t a silent H and that a generation of people listening to rich old southerners had assumed that was the “correct” way to say it and had stuck with it.

The other one for me is “I feel badly.” I want to just scream “NO YOU DON’T! YOUR FINGERS WORK FINE!” Feel is a linking verb and you should use the adjective with a linking verb. You aren’t describing the way that you feel. You are describing your feelings. In other words there is nothing wrong with your ability to feel. In fact if you feel bad your ability to feel must be working. You are describing your feelings and so you should use the word “bad”.

Now there are some discussions about this (most from people who say that general usage has made badly just as correct) but the funny thing for me is that many people who are saying badly are saying it not because it feels natural, but because they think that to sound “right” they have to use badly. They are putting on a front, but that front is false. It is like someone using big words without really knowing what they mean so they use them wrong.

So if I have just offended you about your use of badly I’m sorry, you may have had a teacher who taught you to speak that way, if so I am sorry. But I wanted to say all of that to make this point.

Have you ever met Christians living this way. They are holding up their natural instincts in the name of being “right” when they don’t realize that those things aren’t right. The one that I think of most often is the person who gets mad about emotion in worship. These people have been taught that worshiping God is a solemn affair, and while it should be reverent there are times when you just have to cut loose and praise Him. In the name of being right they have suppressed what is natural. The funny thing is that many of these people hold their “rightness” in high regard and look down their noses at those people who aren’t as enlightened as them.

I guess what I am saying is don’t worry about saying badly and don’t worry about cutting loose a little in worship. Sometimes the rules can set you free.

2 thoughts on “Being Wrong while Trying to be Right

  • July 22, 2009 at 4:45 AM

    Is it wrong of me that I desperately want to look up this rule now?

  • July 22, 2009 at 5:14 PM

    I left out one of the cool things that Grammar Girl said that helped me get a better grip on why it is bad and not badly. Think about the other senses. You smell bad, but that is different than you smell badly. One is talking about the state that you are in the other one is describing the way that you smell. The same is true with feel. You feel bad because it is describing the feelings, not your ability to feel.


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