Tuesday, 24 February 2015

No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You To Sadly Die

Southampton Common cemetery

I think I am going to start a campaign against an annoying formula that has established itself in the writing of even the more sensitive journalists and commentators:  "to sadly die".

Now, death and dying do present the writer with a number of difficult issues of tone and vocabulary: you don't necessarily want to upset or insult anybody (other than the recently rigidified themselves, who are beyond all that).  Death has often been described as the the "last taboo", which is just silly.  There are plenty of taboos left.  I find, to my surprise and embarrassment, that toenail trimming in restaurants (even with proper nail-clippers!) is still generally frowned upon, for example, just to start at the milder and more obviously absurd end of the taboo spectrum.  There are also any number of subjects which it is forbidden to discuss, but we won't talk about them here.

But "to sadly die" is a curious construct.  Typically, a sentence will read:  "Joan McGloan, who sadly died last month, was perhaps best known as a virtuoso on the Ettrick nose-harp".  Now, what work is the word "sadly" doing in that sentence?  Was Joan sad to die?  Did she die in a sad way? Is the writer sad that Joan died?  Is it sad, in particular, that it was Joan who died?  Perhaps we are being invited to admire or share the writer's sensitivity to Joan's death?  Or is the word merely acting as a sort of soft buffer before the dread word "die"?  Is there perhaps a feeling that to write, plainly, "Joan McGloan, who died last month..." is somehow a bit too brutal, a touch "inappropriate"?  Or is it even that to name, um, Mr. D out loud and unqualified is a form of tempting fate, so that "sadly" performs an apotropaic function?

Whatever.  It's still annoying.  But I think I can help.  I have some alternative suggestions, for those who blink at plain old "died":

to gladly die (for evangelical Christians)
to badly die (for those who make a bit too much fuss about dying)
to madly die (for candidates for the Darwin Awards)
to radly die (for grunge band members)
to tadly die (for those who die surprisingly quickly)
to fadly die  (for those who die from dieting or self-medication)
to plaidly die (for Scots nationalists)

These could be used in combination, too.  For example, "Joan McGloan, who gladly madly plaidly died last month" would indicate in an efficient way that Joan was a Scottish Nationalist evangelical who died in some risibly stupid way; for example, while attempting to prove the Ettrick nose-harp could be played by ear.

Of course, the judicious use of some commas ("Joan McGloan, who, sadly, died last month...") might rescue the situation, and turn an annoying verbal tic into a mere cliché, but where's the fun in that?


Zouk Delors said...

How about "Concert pianist Joan McGloan died last night after a long illness :-C."?

Richard said...

To daly die (knocked down by a Taiwanese scooter).

David Crosbie said...

I find nothing whatsoever strange with

"Joan McGloan, who sadly died last month, was perhaps best known as a virtuoso on the Ettrick nose-harp". Apart from the musical instrument, that is.

This use of an adverb is well described in modern grammars of English — albeit they haven't agreed on a term for it.

One grammar places it in a list of adverbs which can be attached to a clause to mean:

What is expressed is judged to be fortunate or unfortunate:
fortunately, unfortunately, happily , unhappily , luckily, unluckily, sadly , tragically

Thee adverbs can be placed at different points in a sentence. For example
Unfortunately, Joan McGloane lost her Ettrick nose-harp.
Joan McGloane unfortunately lost her Ettrick nose-harp.
Joan McGloane lost her Ettrick nose-harp unfortunately.

This is to say that what is expressed — namely Joan McGloane lost her Ettrick nose-harp — is judged to be unfortunate.

In a related sentence, what is expressed — namely Joan McGloane died last month — may be judged to be sad.
Joan McGloane lost her Ettrick nose-harp
Sadly, Joan McGloane died last month
Joan McGloane sadly died last month
Joan McGloane died last month, sadly

By contrast everybody finds something wrong with

No, Mr Bond, I expect you to sadly die

because it's deliberately wrong. It's a verbal joke. It means

'I expect you to be somebody about whom it will be said 'He sadly died'.

Richard Parkin said...

+1, sadly.

Zouk Delors said...