Yesterday I went looking for a blog post I had clipped last year in preparation for teaching a New Testament Introduction course. The post had a list of complaints medieval monks scribbled in the margins of illuminated manuscripts. I never did use the post in class. I could not find a good time to discuss textual criticism with mostly disinterested undergraduates. But in my digging I noted the content had actually been borrowed from Lapham’s Quarterly. So, as one does, I had to go down that rabbit hole. While there I came across this gem:
After serving as longtime copyeditor for The New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs in the 1930s moved on to write drama criticism for the magazine and sent editor Harold Ross a document entitled “Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles.” Among his notes were: “1. Writers always use too damn many adverbs”; “20. The more ‘as a matter of facts,’ ‘howevers,’ ‘for instances,’ etc., etc., you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven”; and lastly, “31. Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.
Disdain for the adverb has not subsided in the last 80 years. Stephen King hates them too! As for the list of the monks’ complaints, why, you might ask, did I go looking for it in the first place. Well, after drudging through some of the tedium of editing manuscripts, I feel their pain. I was looking for commiseration: