Friday, 9 November 2007

A.W.A.D. - Adjectives

William Strunk and E.B. White, in their highly-regarded book, The Elements of Style, say:

"Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.

"They have a point. Nouns and verbs work better especially when you're trying to paint a picture with words. Adjectives and adverbs are to nouns and verbs as painting is to stenciling.

But adjectives have their place. There are times when a well-chosen adjective (literally, one that lies [next to a noun]) can do the job of many words, such as when the purpose is to convey an idea quickly and succinctly.

So don't be afraid to use them, with restraint, particularly if you can find a fresh adjective. This week we'll feature five of these much-maligned words, words that drove Mark Twain to verbicide* ("When you catch an adjective, kill it").

*verbicide: destroying words

riant
(RI-uhnt) adjective
Smiling, cheerful.

[From French riant, present participle of rire (to laugh), from Latin ridere (to laugh).]

aliterate
(ay-LIT-uhr-it) noun
One who is capable of reading but not interested in it.

[From Latin a- (not or without) + litteratus (learned), from littera (letter).]

contumelious
(kon-too-MEE-lee-uhs, -tyoo-) adjective
Rudely contemptuous.

[From Latin contumelia, perhaps from contumax (insolent).]

perfervid
(puhr-FUHR-vid) adjective
Extremely or excessively passionate.

[From Latin perfervidus, from Latin per- (thoroughly) + fervidus (boiling). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bhreu- (to boil or to bubble), that is also the source of brew, bread, broth, braise, brood, breed, and barmy.]

habile
(HAB-il) adjective
Having general ability; skillful.

[From Latin habilis (able), from habere (to have or to hold). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ghabh- (to give or to receive) that is also the source of give, gift, able, habit, prohibit, due, and duty.]

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