March 1, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: loath/loathe and a little loathsome & healthy/healthily/healthfully

Posted in healthy/healthful, loath/loathe/loathsome at 6:08 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Loath or loathe and a little loathsome

Last week in our wlut discussion of n and sample size, I quoted a reader who said,

“However, I am loath to go against the AMA advice.”

When I read that, I have to admit, I thought to myself—should there be an e on loath? The answer is no, there shouldn’t be an e, but that gave me an idea of what I could write about this week.

What is the difference between loath and loathe? And what about loathsome?

The reader was correctly using ‘loath,’ an adjective which means reluctant or unwilling.

I am loath to talk to my instructor; I don’t think she likes me.

He was loath to redo the experiment fearing that the results would not hold up.

Loathe, on the other hand, is a verb that means detest or dislike intensely.

I loathe boxing; it is such a brutal sport.

The candidate, whom we loathe, is continually accusing others of falsehoods.

Loath, the adjective, rhymes with ‘both.’ Loathe, the verb, rhymes with ‘clothe.’

And what of loathsome? Even though it is spelled without the e (spelling it with the e—loathesome—is a common mistake), it is related to and pronounced like loathe.

I can’t stand him; he is loathsome.

The loathsome applicant did not having any redeeming characteristics.

Enough. I am loath to say anything else on this loathsome topic.

Tip 2: Healthy, healthily, and healthfully

A reader writes:

From the New York Times, Feb 25, 2012:

“I’ve found some research showing that many of us don’t have the incentive to eat healthy.”

That should be “healthily” shouldn’t it?

Well, it should definitely be an adverb, so healthily is a possibility. But I would lean toward healthfully, myself. But let’s step back a moment—this is such a contentious topic, and strong feelings abound. In fact, this is the third time that the topic has come up. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The first area of contention surrounds the use of an adverb. I think almost everyone agrees that an adverb is needed since it is the verb, eat,  that is being modified.

And, of course, everyone agrees that healthy is an adjective not an adverb.

Whoops, not so fast. This is where the we find the first area of contention: some consider healthy to be a perfectly good adverb; the ‘ily’ has just  been lopped off. (See Jan Freeman’s column in the Boston Globe for example: To some, this is considered a flat adverb.

Flat adverbs are adverbs that keep the adjective form. And I agree that flat adverbs exist. Here are some: far, fast, sharp, slow, hard, sure, hard, soon, calm, early, late, high, deep, near. I could go  on and on. There are lots of flat adverbs. Some have ‘ly’ forms that have the same meaning (e.g., hold on tight vs. hold on tightly), and some have ‘ly’ meanings that have different meanings (e.g., I hit the ground hard vs. I hardly touched the ground), and some have no ‘ly’ form at all (e.g.,  fast, soon).

The literary quote that uses a flat adverb that I like the most is from a Jonathan Swift book published in 1712:

“The five ladies were monstrous fine.”

I just love using the word, monstrous, in describing ‘fine ladies.’

Most often, you will see flat adverbs that also have ‘ly’ form used colloquially or in casual use. I might say, “Drive safe” or “Sit tight” or even “Stay calm” to a friend. I’m a big fan of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign. But to be honest, I never thought of ‘different’ in the slogan as an adverb. I thought the design team was being grammatically incorrect to grab the attention of the audience.

That’s how I feel about ‘eat healthy,’ too. It’s fine in colloquial or casual conversation but has no place in a serious article about diet and nutrition. It’s especially egregious when there are there two perfectly good adverbs that could be used in its stead: healthily and healthfully. And either word could successfully be used in place of healthy.

“I’ve found some research showing that many of us don’t have the incentive to eat healthily.”

“I’ve found some research showing that many of us don’t have the incentive to eat healthfully.”

And this is the other area of contention: are the two words synonymous or do they have different meanings?

I assert that they have separate meanings. To me, healthily means possessing good health, and healthfully means conducive to good health. Now, I know that not everyone makes this distinction, but in the name of precision, it seems reasonable. Also, I think that since we have two distinct words, why not let them have distinct meanings?

Anyway, that’s why I would choose ‘healthfully’ in the example. I am going to eat in a way that is conducive to good health.

So let’s leave healthy as an adjective, and let the adverbs speak for themselves.


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