COLUMN: Ann Arbor does it up different: Without adverbs
Editor's note: Anne Curzan's title as an associate professor at the University of Michigan has been corrected.
Before a nationwide campaign is launched promoting the Ann Arbor region, some are suggesting that it be corrected for grammatical errors. The Pure Michigan promotion touts the slogan, “Ann Arbor Does It Up Different.”
The Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has been using a variation of that slogan -- using the word “different” rather than “differently” -- on its website, as well. Even the University of Michigan posts “Drive Safe” on game scoreboards.
Ann Arbor isn’t the only place doing things differently when it comes to the English language. The adverb seems to be disappearing, along with proper punctuation, and handwriting. Dr. Anne Curzan, a University of Michigan associate professor of English and director of the U-M English Writing Program, appeared on The Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider on 1290 WLBY and said such language may not be wrong, but rather just a sign of the times.
Curzan: I do. I study English back to the 5th century and I study what’s happening today. There are changes happening all the time, and my students teach me new words. One of my favorites is “adorkable.” As soon as I heard it, I thought, “I know all kinds of adorkable people who do adorkable things.” I recently just heard about a new verb that kids are making which is the word “verse” from “versus.” They’re saying, “So who are you ‘versing’?” Or “At practice we always have to ‘verse’ the yellow team.” It means “to play against.” I think what’s happened is the kids have reinterpreted “versus” and they think when you hear the Tigers versus the Indians, well that means that the Tigers must “verse” them. So they’ve made a verb. We’ve been changing the language as long as there has been a language.
The Pure Michigan "Ann Arbor Does It Up Different" campaign:
Lucy Ann: Is this a pronounced change in the English language where the adverb is becoming obsolete?
Curzan: I’m actually not that worried about the adverb. But we do see confusion like “Drive safe.” That’s actually really old. You can go back to the Renaissance and find examples like “Speak Free.” We call these “flat adverbs” where an adjective is functioning as an adverb with no difference. Fast is an adjective and an adverb. I am fast. I run fast. And then you take something like “slow.” I am slow. I run slowly. But for some of us, we want to make “slow” act like “fast.” So, I am slow. I run slow. Most of the time we think it sounds more colloquial, or more friendly, to say “Drive safe.” I think it can sound a little more authoritarian to say “Drive safely.” “Drive safe” sounds more like a friendly piece of advice.
Lucy Ann: Perhaps, but if it is not correct English?
Curzan: Well, that’s a great question because who gets to say what is correct? And as a linguist myself, what I’m doing is tracking what we’re actually doing because in the long run, what speakers are doing will probably win. People who make dictionaries will say, “Our job is to keep up with speakers.”
Lucy Ann: Professor Curzan, you’re sitting at Michigan Stadium and the scoreboard reads, “Drive slow.” What are you thinking as an English Professor? Does it bother you?
Curzan: What I’m thinking is, “I bet there are people in this audience that are bothered by that.” I am not one of the people bothered by that because I’m much more interested in what people are doing. Does that mean I don’t have my own pet peeves? Of course I do. There are things that I hear people say and I think, “Oh, you’re kidding. You’re really going to use ‘interface’ as a verb?” But I realize that we are using “interface” as a verb and I need to just get over that. People then sometimes say to me, “Does that mean that you never mark anything in a student’s paper?” No, my job is to make sure my students know what they might be judged about. So if they use a certain structure that other people judge as incorrect, they should know that so they can make choices in a given context. We talk about that in class in terms of is it actually incorrect? Or do people think it’s incorrect?
Lucy Ann: Has the appearance of texting where we abbreviate words and pass on punctuation compromised our ability to speak and spell correctly?
Curzan: I know a lot of people are worried that texting is somehow ruining the English language. I don’t think so. When I talk with students about it, they have a very clear sense that they have texting language and then they have the language they use at school. There is abbreviation going on in texting. That’s not new. We use abbreviations like “flu” for “influenza” or “deli” for “delicatessen.” This has been going on for a long time in English. Texting language is changing so fast. My students tell me that “lol,” which we older speakers think means “laughing out loud,” is a listening noise like “uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, I’m here, I’m listening.” They’re using “lol” on text to say, “I’m here, I got your message.” To show you’re laughing they say, “hahaha” with at least three “has.” Lucy Ann: What are some other transitions you see in our language?
Curzan: Well there are people that are concerned about the loss of “whom.”
Lucy Ann: I have no idea when to use “who” versus “whom.”
Curzan: You’re not alone in that, which is part of the reason that “whom” is dying. People aren’t sure when to use it. We’re seeing people using “I” and “me” in ways that are different from the way they’ve been used historically. We have some trouble with pronoun confusion going on. Then we do things like turn nouns into verbs, taking “Google” and making it into a verb to “google” things. “Impact” was historically a noun that we’ve made into a verb in that we can impact something else. And then acronyms, these abbreviations. These took off in the 20th century. There are ones that everyone knows like “bff” (best friends forever) and new ones like “fomo”, which is “fear of missing out.”
Lucy Ann: The bottom line is the way grammar is being used in speech, in advertising, on signs, it has become part of our language.
Curzan: It absolutely has. One of the reasons we notice “We do it up different” is the “do it up.” We don’t tend to put any word after that. If you’re going to put another word there it tends to be “right”, and “right” can be an adjective or an adverb.