Buck’s recent comments about the use of “more important” as opposed to “more importantly” piqued the curiosity of Paula in Edmond.
“That led me to wonder about the common practice today of saying ‘secondly’ and ‘thirdly,’ and so on,” she said. “Shouldn’t it be ‘second’ and ‘third’ when listing speaking points? I’ve even heard ‘firstly.’”
Buck prefers simplicity, and therefore would say “first,” “second” and “third.” That keeps him from wondering whether to say “seventhly” or “eighthly” when the list gets long.
There’s nothing wrong with saying, “First, I prefer to keep it simple, second, I like short words better than longer ones, and third, I forget what comes next.”
Critics through the years have maintained that “firstly” is incorrect, but writers through the years have used it anyhow with little impact on the readership.
Henry Fowler, Miss Prunella Pincenez’s linguistic heartthrob, called the use of “firstly” a “harmless pedantry.” Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage gives it halfhearted approval. Some critics say it’s OK to use “firstly” if you subsequently use “secondly,” “thirdly,” and so on. But they frown on “first” followed by “secondly” and “thirdly.”
Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes that President Jimmy Carter once began an enumeration with “first of all,” followed by “secondly” and “third,” so it reckons consistency isn’t all that important.
“It is only fair to note that writers and speakers have often played fast and loose with these enumerators,” Webster’s opines, and “consistency in this specific usage has not always had a high priority with good writers.”
“That’s the firstliest time I’ve heard of that rule,” said Gopher.
Send questions for Buck to BucksEnglish@AOL.com. Please let Buck know what town you’re from. For other writing by Gene Owens, go online to www.wadesdixieco.com.