Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All Your Basis Are Belong to Us: Rant from an Exasperated Editor

Can someone please tell me the appeal of the word basis? Specifically the idea of doing something "on an adverbly basis." 

I've been seeing this structure a lot lately — or at least it seems that way — while performing some of my daily editorial duties (not the editorial duties that I perform on a daily basis!). And it's really beginning to bug me. 

Recently, I've "learned" that one can add firewall exceptions "on an as-needed basis" and that one's hard drive should be backed up "at least on a monthly basis." Surely it is much easier to "add firewall exceptions as needed" and to back up a hard drive "at least once a month," or even just "monthly"? I'm not arguing grammaticality here, but style. Certainly there are times when "an adverbly basis" is the best way to go — as an editor, I might let some things be decided "on a case-by-case basis" (though I'd prefer that such things be handled individually.) But overall, on an adverbly basis is wasteful. 

It sounds like the high school student who has already increased the font to 14 points, has set line spacing at 2.5 lines, has widened the margins, but still hasn't made it to the five-page minimum for his history report. Time to fluff up the text needless verbiage! 

William Strunk was on to something when he encouraged his students to "Omit Needless Words"; he just framed it wrong. I think "Be Succinct" is a more helpful direction, and it's a full word shorter! 

Look, writers, I'll make you a deal. If you promise to remember that grammatically correct is not the same thing as well-written, I promise to remember that grammatically incorrect isn't the same thing as badly written.

[Update 12/18/09: As bad as "on an adverbly basis" is, "in an adverbly fashion" is even worse. Just came across the imperative "Give instruction in a step-by-step fashion." Again, grammatically correct but so horribly wrong on every other level. Why wouldn't you just "give step-by-step instructions"?!]