Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Obviously, It’s Time to Shut Up!

The first word of the title might be a Noun in Direct Address – I can’t make up my mind.

In my English class, I dubbed a Noun in Direct Address a “Hey, you” noun. The sole purpose for this syntactical convention is to identify or to get the attention of the person to whom one is speaking. It contributes nothing to the message being conveyed; it may be utilized at any point in a sentence; and the rules of grammar and usage require that it always be set off by commas.

My friends, I have had just about enough.
I have had just about enough, my friends.
I have, my friends, had just about enough.

I have had just about enough, too – at least of that doggone word “Obviously.”

Somewhere your middle-school English teacher is smiling if you’ve already thought, “But, Abacus, ‘obviously’ ends in –ly so it’s an adverb. A noun’s a person, place or thing.”

(Be careful, though…Sally ends in –ly but names a person.)

Adverbs and adjectives, by definition, are modifiers (describing words), distinguished by what they happen to be describing in a particular instance. For example, an easy concept is easily understood. The adjective easy tells us “what kind of concept” while the adverb easily tells us “how the understanding occurs.”

Simple, huh – or is it simply?

“Obviously,” while indeed an adverb, has become a public nuisance devoid of any substance, particularly in the realm of Sports Talk. All dialogue, questions and answers alike, are littered with the word. On ESPN this morning, TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith’s very first response began with the word. (He lost me at that point; I recall nothing else from the interview.) I expect insight from an expert, not that which is “easily seen and understood.” Maybe Mr. “Jet” was just trying to stifle any disagreement, implying that the fault lies with you if you should happen not to agree with that which is self-evident to a thinking person.

Andy Katz and a couple of currently unemployed college hoop coaches occupied ESPNU for five full hours yesterday previewing March Madness. This special episode of Katz Korner was essentially a string of interviews with coaches. The most amusing (and perhaps most truly obvious) comment of the day came when Dino Gaudio pointed out that the young Memphis coach will “kill you with kindness” on the heels of a typical Josh Pastner performance.

I’d be curious, though, to know how many times the word was used during that program. I’d set the over-or-under at about 150. (At least three will be found in the 71st minute alone.)

Heck, even Phil Jackson fell victim to the word one time (that I noticed) during his introductory news conference with the Knicks earlier today – though perhaps the Zen-master should be given a pass since he was discussing the convoluted and contentious mess that Madison Square Garden management has been for some time now.

Maybe I’m simply not understanding the syntax in which this word is being utilized. Maybe it’s not the content of the question or answer that is being described by this adverb, but rather the manner in which the information is being presented. Straightforwardly, without pretense, what I know you can know.

Then why not say “To be totally honest with you”? (Uh-oh, there’s another common but troubling component of the current vernacular…better not go there right now!)

Needless to say (hey, isn't that just another way of saying “obviously”?), this word has become nothing more than a four-syllable synonym for “ummm.”

Good thing Latin is dead or it might take offense.