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An Open Letter to People Who Use the Word Firstly

February 17, 2011

Dear Friend,

Is it okay if I call you friend? I know we just met and I’m about to criticize your grammar, but I promise it’s all in the name of love. You see, I used to work at a church and I’ve attended church my entire life. I have found that pastors like to divide their sermons into sections and begin these sections with words like “firstly,” “secondly,” and so on. Being exposed to this practice time and time again has made it a particularly big pet peeve of mine.

People offering advice in a step-by-step manner also like to do this. “Firstly, stop dating him. Secondly, move to a new city. Lastly, get a dog and name him Butch.”

My initial reaction used to be full-body tremors. I have since resigned myself to an inner sigh of defeat. If I’m feeling really morose, I’ll make the sigh French by saying “le sigh.”

Let’s break this down grade school style. Words that end in -ly are most often (but not always) adverbs that answer the question “how?” How did Sue skip to school? Sue skipped happily to school and was run over by a rogue buffalo. And so on and so forth.

So what question are you answering when you use the word “firstly”? That’s right—you aren’t answering a question at all. You are simply presenting the information. (How are you presenting it? Simply.)

The solution to your problem is to remove the -ly and just say “First, open the jar of hot fudge. Second, pour the hot fudge on the ice cream. Third, give the hot fudge sundae to Tiffany.

It’s as simple as that. Now go forth, my friend, and overuse fake adverbs no more!

Yours sincerely,

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2011 4:33 pm

    I have a bad feeling that people will still use “firstly” irregardless of your attempts to re-educate them.

    See what I did there? I used a fake word to modify a fake word. *zing*

    • dtdorrin permalink*
      February 17, 2011 4:45 pm

      HA! Well played–very well played. And yeah, I doubt anyone will change their ways, but it feels good just to get it out there.

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