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A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Miller Lite

the question of -ly


A simple little note here on something that has been catching my ear on television. Currently, Miller Lite has in their ad campaigns gone back to pointing to the spelling of "lite" and how they began that habit. The catch phrase you hear on their commercials with this is

Spelled different because it is brewed different.

Which, obviously is grammatically incorrect. Those are adverbs, so the words should be differently.

Now, it does not surprise me that there would be language errors in an ad campaign: advertising, particularly what I hear on television and radio, seems to be permitting a greater and greater degree of sloppiness in their work. I frequently hear conjunctions and adverbs misused; it is not infrequent that I hear nouns or verbs used to the wrong definition or out and out clumsy sentence constructions; and occasionally I even here gross errors in fact. For example, I recently heard a local radio ad that used Little Red Riding Hood as an example of being choosy – the correct reference being of course Goldilocks. The ad didn't stay on the air very long, but there still waves the question of how did it get on the air in the first place.

But back to Miller Lite. Language changes over time. Everyone knows that. One of the changes that is happening in English today is that the -ly that marks adverbs is being dropped more and more. I have heard it said that the -ly is "disappearing from the language." From my listening, though, it does not seem that it is disappearing but that it is become permissibly optional. (Far, far more in speech than in writing.) If you drop the body of people who are mis-speaking because of dialect, lack of education, or lack of attention, it has seemed to me, from my listening, that people (and this includes myself) will sometimes use the -ly and sometimes not, and often for a purpose related to the utterance. For example, there is a sort of punch that you can create to a statement by using the adjective form instead of the adverb form, especially when the adjective form is one syllable. (You hear this used often in colloquial or slang constructions.) I also believe that people with a more developed poetic or musical ear will sometimes drop the -ly for the sake of rhythm.

What is the reason the -lys are missing in the Miller Lite phrase? It could be simply that the ad writers are idiots. In today's U.S. that is entirely a possibility. Though it is far more likely that the language is intentionally being dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. (Is it time we should stop saying "lowest common demoninator" and start saying simply "common denominator" considering the sub-intellectual state of our national, consumerist culture? And note that verse culture, with its rejection of standards, is not exempt from this accusation.)

It is undeniable, though, that leaving off the adverbial -lys does create a punch to the phrase: the two halves of the phrase end, with the adjective form, on stressed – if softly stressed – syllables. Which prompts a question.

What if the phrase were this? What if this construction came up in your writing?

Spelled different because it tastes different.

Here the latter use of different is correct in its adjective form. But what about the first instance? Would you consider it permissible to use the adjective form to create that 'punch,' not only through removing the unstressed syllable but also through creating the parallelism? Are there times it would be permissible and other times where it would not?

Of course, the answer does depend upon the nature of the verse in general, the immediate context of the moment, and, perhaps more importantly, how sophisticated is the ear of the writer/reader. And it is not like the use of the adjective in place of the adverb is new to verse: it in no way is. But as with any wordplay, just because Shakespeare did it does not create a permission slip for its general use: there is still, and always, the question of does it work in this one, immediate instance. That is the question of writing taken organically rather than mechanically: just because something works in verse A, in context A, does not mean it works – even the exact same phrase – in verse B.

The Miller Lite catch phrase as written does not work for me. It grates my ears every time I hear it; doubly so since I recognize that it was probably written intentionally, written down to the generally doltish U.S. audience. However that alternate phrase,

Spelled different because it tastes different.

that to me is interesting. I'm not saying I would ever use it in verse: it still grates. And I believe it should. One of the necessary side effects of developing a sophisticated ear is some things will begin – and forever continue – to rub the ear the wrong way. It should. I can't stand the sound of ending a sentence on a preposition. But development of sophistication is also learning when the sound of the text being written prompts, nonetheless, going against one's tendencies. It demands hearing

Spelled different because it tastes different.

and being able to think that there is possibility there, that there is something interesting going on, that there is something worth contemplating, that offers learning.


1 comment:

  1. Makes sense.
    A lot of songs use double negatives which confuses me altogether.
    There's this song 'Work from home' by Fifth Harmony that starts with "I ain't worried bout nothin, I ain't wearing na nada."