I Truly, Madly, Deeply Hate ‘Deeply’

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Photo by Kyle Ryan on Unsplash

I don’t use Heartlands to rant much, right? O yeah, there was that time. But, listen, there’s a new rhetorical bugaboo I need to brood about. I’m deeply concerned about ‘deeply.’

It’s not so much the adverb’s connection to words like ‘grateful’ and phrases like ‘I love you.’  It’s particularly problematic when it worms its way next to ‘problematic,’ as in: “I found the Kavanaugh hearings deeply problematic.” Defenders and opponents alike were throwing the ‘deeply’s around like Shriners throwing candy in a small-town parade. And for what?

Deeply is a feeling word. It’s useful, perhaps, when trying to describe an opera or a spiritual retreat. I suspect, however, that we’re reaching for it when we feel like ‘very’ just isn’t good enough. 

If I find something ‘very problematic,’ you still are going to want to know more specifics from me to understand why, but you don’t have to deal with my emotions.  You’re also probably not going to worry that something is going on at the core of my being. ‘Deeply problematic’ things ratchet up the stakes and force you to come to terms with something more essential in me that you may never be able to understand.  

Can’t we have some discussions that don’t require ‘deeply’s?  Or, for that matter, even some problems that are just that and not ‘problematic,’ a word that is only one step better than ‘problematize’ in the rankings of Words That Do Not Need to Exist? Why do all of our public disputes have to move to DEFCOM 1?

Don’t answer that. I’ve seen enough presidential tweets to know why.

But when we use such emotional constructions to substitute for really grappling with what makes us feel that way, we tend toward more polarization and less clarity.  We hold onto a kind of knowing that begins in the inner twinge but never explore it enough to allow the twinge to emerge into thought. I just assume, because you’re in my tribe, that you feel it deeply, too, and therefore no more explanation is necessary. I also don’t allow those outside the tribe to understand the source of my twinges, which is the vital, intuitive self that would really like to see more light and find more connection.

Mark Twain was no fan of ‘deeply,’ or any other adverb to tell the truth.  His standard advice was, “When you see an adverb, kill it.” Stephen King says “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

So, let’s make a start, call a spade a spade, and return ‘deeply’ to its proper place in purple prose. We could eliminate it altogether but that would be…well…wrong.

2 thoughts on “I Truly, Madly, Deeply Hate ‘Deeply’

    • Great to hear from an editing pro! I don’t know how many you had to strike from my copy over the years, but I learned a lot from you. I think there’s another whole post to do on how adverbs allow for a lot of unnecessary imprecision (laziness?) in prose. I’ll be pondering that. Deeply.

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