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Buck's English: First, let's get rid of the -ly

Gene Owens: Buck’s recent comments about the use of “more important” as opposed to “more importantly” piqued the curiosity of Paula from over in Edmond.
By Gene Owens, For The Oklahoman Published: July 13, 2014
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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.”

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