October 6th, 2004
Formally vs. formerly / not a vs. no / more quickly vs. quicker
by Barbara Wallraff
Lucille L. Soper, of Orland, Maine, writes: “My pet peeve is getting to be the use of ‘formally’ when ‘formerly’ is meant.”
Dear Lucille: This is such a foolish mistake that I can scarcely believe it turns up in print. But it does. Within the past month various newspapers have reported that Time Warner was “formally known as America Online”; that a high-school soccer player broke his school’s career record for points, which had been “formally held” by someone else; that the Bob Hope Theatre, of Stockton, Calif., was “formally known as the California Fox”; and that peace activist Yusuf Islam was “formally known as pop singer Cat Stevens.”
Arash Assadi, of San Jose, Calif., writes: “Is there is a difference between ‘He is not an English teacher’ and ‘He is no English teacher’? A colleague of mine believes that the latter is wrong and the only possible form is ‘He is not an English teacher.’”
Dear Arash: This calls to mind a memorable moment in vice-presidential debate history. In 1988, Democrat Lloyd Bentsen told his Republican opponent Dan Quayle: “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” The line has been endlessly repeated and referred to and commented upon, but to my knowledge no one has ever criticized its grammar. The grammar is fine, and so is the grammar of “He is no English teacher.”
Matt Harper, of Pinckney, Mich., writes: “I often hear radio and TV news people say ‘more quickly.’ It sounds goofy! What ever happened to the word ‘quicker’?”
Dear Matt: Not many reference books will tell you this, but you can see it in databases of English in use: “Quicker” preferably modifies nouns, and “more quickly” modifies verbs. Consider “My favorite newspeople have quicker minds than some others I might name.” Here “quicker” modifies the noun “minds,” and “more quick” would sound goofy. But “Some newspeople talk more quickly than others.” Here “more quickly” is modifying the verb “talk” -- and this time, wouldn’t “quicker” sound goofy?
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.