Most Read: Opinions

direct signup

Today’s Opinions poll

Would you use an app that tells you the partisan affiliation of products you're considering buying?

Submit
Next
Review your answers and share

Join a Discussion

Weekly schedule, past shows

Erik Wemple
On Twitter E-mail |  On Twitter Follow |  On Facebook Fan |  RSS RSS Feed
Posted at 09:05 AM ET, 06/30/2011

The Washington Monthly and adverbs -- a love affair

The Washington Monthly does yeoman’s work on national policy. Tear open the current issue, and dig in to the Phillip Longman story on not-so-high-speed rail -- a fine blend of analysis, facts and anecdotage. Who knew that the overnight train from D.C. to Chicago was such a big deal?

Suzanne Mettler’s cover piece, too, brings in-depth reporting to timely matters. It’s a slap at what she calls the “submerged state,” the system of tax breaks designed to encourage a range of activities. And I would have read the entire story if I hadn’t gotten distracted.

The culprit here wasn’t a usual suspect, like Twitter or something. It was Mettler’s repeated use of the laziest sentence structure in written expression. Unfortunately, this structure persists. Surprisingly, it hasn’t attracted much media attention. Ironically, it mimics a pretty effective pattern of spoken language. Ultimately, it has to go.

We’re talking, of course, about the “-ly”adverb-cum-comma construction, known in these parts as LACC. LACC is a shortcut, a crutch for writers who can’t be bothered to infuse their sentences with the sentiment conveyed by the prefatory adverb. Instead of writing “Ironically,...” it would be better to find a way to sow irony into the heart of the sentence.

What better way to attack the problem than to examine Mettler’s repeated LACCisms, and offer an edited version? In some cases, the solution is Ctrl-X. Have a look:

LACC: “Not surprisingly, most beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill who took part in the survey acknowledged that they had been given a leg up by the government.”

De-LACC: “Most beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill who took part in the survey acknowledged getting a boost from the government.

LACC: “Understandably, to many people tax breaks may seem substantively different from traditional social benefits.”

De-LACC: “Shrouded in reams of minutiae, tax breaks bear a different public impression than do traditional social benefits.”

LACC: “Remarkably, despite the vast drain such provisions impose on federal resources, policymakers have mostly allowed them to grow unchecked.”

De-LACC: “Though such provisions drain the treasury, policymakers for some reason have promoted them.”

LACC: “Evidently, beneficiaries of visible policies understood that taxes help to pay for such programs, whereas those who prospered from the policies of the submerged state failed to grasp that connection.”

De-LACC: “Beneficiaries of conventional social progams understood that they were funded by taxes, whereas beneficiaries of the submerged state failed to grasp the connection.”

LACC: “Not surprisingly, given the invisibility of tax expenditures to most Americans, they generate a passive public.”

De-LACC: “Americans are oblivious to invisible tax-code welfare, and why shouldn’t they be?”

LACC: “Instantly, the proposal set in motion the typical politics of the submerged state, as vested interests rallied to defend their pet policies while the public remained out of the loop.”

De-LACC: “The moment it hit Washington’s BlackBerrys, the proposal ignited the typical politics of the submerged state, as vested interests rallied to defend their pet policies while the public remained out of the loop.”

LACC: “Fortunately, and rather ironically, the coming showdown over raising the debt ceiling presents a golden opportunity to substantially scale back the submerged state—and to advance progressive goals in the process.”

De-LACC: “The coming showdown over raising the debt ceiling presents a welcome chance to hollow out the submerged state while also advancing progressive goals.”

By  |  09:05 AM ET, 06/30/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company