Axing Alarming Adverbs – The LY Pledge

Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner started it – The LY Pledge – to lessen the unbearably excessive use of adverbs in political debate. Morrison’s adverb usage rate is the lowest of any of the world’s greatest writers, including Hemingway. Her adverb rate of 76 edges out Hemingway’s 80, and puts her exceedingly well ahead of others like Steinbeck, Rushdie, Rowling, and Tolstoy.

Morrison believes you should choose your words carefully and leave plenty of space around them so that the reader or listener can more easily reflect, thoughtfully decipher and earnestly engage. Her ultimate goal is to tone down political rhetoric and increase civility in public discourse. She would like to eliminate ridicule, exaggeration, hyperbole, cataclysmic references and alarmist pronouncements. She contends that political action is more successful when adverbs are eliminated.

Morrison and her supporters are asking politicians, commentators, journalists, bloggers, activists and true democrats everywhere to sign their pledge encouraging moderation in political discourse. Kurt Vonnegut is a posthumous member. Bill Gates is perhaps The LY’s biggest supporters. (He put Allie Brosh’s latest book “Hyperbole and a Half” on his Beach Reading List.)

Fellow Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro started tweeting to honour Morrison’s new passion. I was surprised to see that Stephen Lewis has already signed the pledge. He once famously said his fingers start erratically twitching when he meets an adverb he hasn’t already used. Maria Popova curator of the immensely popular Brain Pickings has also signed the LY Pledge. This was incredibly surprising since she literally bathes in adverbs. Margaret Atwood has said she’d consider signing the pledge but finds that the strategic use of adverbs can be “ cracklingly good.”

Which brings me to an utterly unique aspect of this quietly profound initiative – humour.

While their remarkably creative project must be taken quite seriously they are not above a little friendly self-deprecation. In fact, The LY Pledge seems to have spawned an outbreak of parody.

For example, you haven’t really lived until you have seen Bill Gates and Toni Morrison perform: “An Hyperbole and a Half Won’t Do” to the tune of  Wilson Pickett’s classic song, “99 and a half won’t do.” Watch it here. It’s unpretentiously funny.

If you are concerned about the stultifying effect of the dreaded “you know what” then please sign the “LY Pledge. It only takes 30 seconds of your immensely precious time. Fingers crossed she doesn’t take on alliteration.


I can hardly imagine the quietly subversive impact of this deceptively simple pledge. (Sophie Gregor Robertson)

Musical accompaniment this post, Now and Then There’s a Fool Such as I, as originally performed by Canada’s singing cowboy, Hank Snow. As fresh today as it was in 1953 when it peaked on the country charts.


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