Dot Wordsworth

Loud and clear

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On the matter of a referendum (not, of course for British people), the Prime Minister said recently that he hoped the Falkland islanders ‘will speak loudly and clearly and that Argentina will listen’. This seems to me an example of hypercorrect speech, parallel to the tendency of people whose social insecurity overwhelms their grammar to say: ‘It was given to my husband and I’.

Not all adverbs end in –ly. Loud and clear is a well known phrase, made more popular in the 20th century by the wireless response to the enquiry ‘Do you read me?’ But loud as an adverb has a history of more than 1,000 years, fortunately for Keats, who would otherwise have had to write of hearing Chapman ‘speak out loudly and boldy’.

There is, of course, such a word as loudly, just as there is a word fastly, though it is fairly rare. Even so, over-cautious writers often seem tempted to use quickly lest their use of fast is suspected to be ill educated. But Lewis Carroll, in ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, wrote, ‘Thick and fast they came at last,’ not, ‘Thickly and fastly they came up lastly.’ Further on in the same poem, the Carpenter says: ‘The butter’s spread too thick!’ and the Walrus says: ‘made them trot so quick’. You might argue that the Walrus and the Carpenter are vulgar, unschooled creatures, but Joseph Addison, the very correct author of much of The Spectator (no relation) wrote of frauds ‘cover’d thick with art’.

Certainly such adverbs as loud, fast and quick are, under the pressure of hypercorrection, less widely used today. But idioms preserve them, so we do not think phrases such as ‘quick as a flash’ ungrammatical. There is another context in which English still prefers to use a form of the adverb identical to that of the adjective, and that is in the comparative and superlative. So Pope in his Essay on Criticism writes: ‘True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learned to dance.’ He doesn’t write ‘most easily’, nor should he. Perhaps before nailing an –ly on to an adjective we should all take it easy.