Robert S. Ryan, of Edmond, stopped by Curly’s Soonerco for a precise distinction between “instinctively” and “instinctually.”
He cited the case of a man accused of striking a woman in the face.
The man’s attorney stated that the man “instinctually defended himself,” Ryan said. “To me, the correct word would have been ‘instinctively defended himself.’ Am I wrong, or are the two words interchangeable?”
Buck can see no clear distinction between the two adverbs. Both are derived from the noun “instinct,” and Buck’s many dictionaries give them similar meanings.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “instinctual” as “relating to or prompted by instinct; apparently unconscious or automatic.” It defines “instinctive” as an adjective form of “instinct.”
The American Heritage Dictionary lists the adjectives “instinctive,” “instinctual,” “intuitive” and “visceral” as synonyms meaning “derived from or prompted by a natural tendency or impulse.”
That seems to give a person permission to use “instinctively” and “instinctually” interchangeably. “Instinctively” is one syllable shorter and, for the record, Buck prefers the shorter and more common synonym. Maybe the lawyer had a legal reason for using “instinctual,” but Buck doesn’t know what it would be.
“Luther has an instinctual fear of walking through his front door after 2 a.m.,” said professor Copernicus Claptrap.
“That’s because Hortense instinctively knows he’s drunk and lost the rent money playing poker,” said Floyd. “So she beans him with her iron skillet.”
Send questions for Buck to BucksEnglish@AOL.com. Please let Buck know what town you’re from. For other writing by Gene Owens, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.