Friday, September 21, 2007


Generally the concept of the adverb is one I get with out much thought. However, on my way to work this morning I heard the the commentator on NPR say "He was working hard..." And it made me start thinking. In fact, I seem to have gotten my head all in a jumble over it.

I was sure the answer must be quite simple, but my mind was set pondering it none the less.

The word "hard," in the sense used by the commentator, means " ...involving a great deal of effort, energy, or persistence: hard labor; hard study... performing or carrying on work with great effort, energy, or persistence: a hard worker."

Being the fan of adverbs that I am, I kept thinking that I would have liked to have said "He was hardly working." Except, then the meaning of the statement, as given by the chosen adverb, would have been taken to mean that he wasn't really working much at all.

Why is that? Is "hard" not the root word of "hardly?"

So, I looked it up. Turns out that with in the list defining the meaning somewhere near sixth or seventh in the list, is the indication that "hardly" can be used to imply that the action was undertaken forcefully, vigorously, with pain or with great difficulty.

However, what is clear in the explanation is that implicit in the word is supposed to be the trouble that was caused to the actor while barely acting. "We could hardly hear a thing" or "We could hardly endure winter."

So, I guess my question is this: On the etymology of the word hardly-- where in the evolution of our language did something implicit in the word "hard" proffer specifically difficult or troublesome connotations to its sister adverb "hardly?" Hard can and does sometimes come imbued negative connotations, but it is as frequently imbued with positive connotations. Why is hardly strictly aligned with the negative?

Hmm. I guess this wasn't really a problem with adverbs as I implied it was going to be at the beginning. Except it made me start wondering what other adverbs exist that don't reflect the meaning of their root word very well.

(Oh, and Travis... I got definitions from I was not happy with the options supplied to me Happy? :-))

1 comment:

Trav said...

Yes. You'll be a convert shortLY.