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Author Topic: Presently
RyanB
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I guess this word fell out of favor in fiction sometime before I was born because I don't remember seeing it much except for two notable examples:

Have Spacesuit Will Travel (1958) used several times
Original Thomas the Tank Engine (1945 to 1972)

I'm guessing if I read more from that era I would see it more often?

Anyway, it sticks out like a sore thumb, irritating me like a rash, in Heilein's otherwise beautiful prose. At first I thought it was the word itself. But I don't think that's the case. Occasionally I hear someone use the word in face to face conversations. There's nothing wrong with the word itself, even if it does seem a little dated.

In Spacesuit we have a narrator telling the story in 1st person past tense. But the word presently implies something is happening now. It's discordant.

But it seems this was acceptable 50 years ago? Thoughts?

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extrinsic
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"Presently," like other adverbs are often used throughout the opus of English literature, in correspondence, and spoken word.

Properly, its usage ought as a best practice be timely and judiciously deployed so that it does not call undue attention. This principle is valid for any usage of any word, phrase, or method of expression. The principle coincides with the first law of expression; that is, facilitate reading (signal reception) and comprehension ease.

Sentence adverbs, being predominantly verb modifiers, are significant in the sense they signal action circumstances. "Presently" and similar time signals are more so significant in the sense they signal temporal circumstances. "Presently" meaning at this moment, at a recent past but ongoing moment of action, a future perfect moment, or used in other rhetorical modes like conditional mood and persuasion and repetition, substitution, and amplification schemes.

Mechanical style principles for sentence adverb use, and "presently" as a best practice is a sentence adverb, perhaps a clause adverb, perhaps a sentence fragment, for modifying a grammatically complete expression, include the following deployments:

Future perfect tense;
Presently, we will go shopping.

We shall go shopping presently.

We will presently go shoppping.

We, presently, will go shopping.

Conditional future gerund;
"When are we going shopping?" Mary asked.

"Presently," Joanne said. (Meaning "soon" or contrarily meaning a delay and we aren't going if Joanne can find a way in the meantime to wiggle out of the shopping trip.)

Present tense;
Presently, the state of shopping instead of traditional gathering and hunting is extensive.

Immediate past-present;
Presently, Mary shopped every Thursday.

Tense, mostly present or narrative's immediate past-present, but also future tenses, are the main uses of "presently." Maybe the adverb would work in past perfect tenses:

Past perfect;
Sheila had presently gone shopping every weekend.

Pluperfect past;
Sheila would ordinarily have had presently a shopping itinerary planned.

The term is to a degree affective in the sense it's often used in a sophisticated dialect. I don't find it burdensome unless it's clumsily used or overwrought or too frequently used. It is an adverb and many prescriptive grammarians find adverbs tedious, which I don't generally. Adverbs' like adjectives' purposes are to express commentary or attitude.

[ May 10, 2013, 01:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I've been rewriting my work these past several years trying to eliminate every "ly" adverb...but I've been wondering about the wisdom of doing so for awhile, and was planning on cutting back that kind of revision. (Of course the act of rewriting has made me conscious of using them, and I cut back on their use in first draft...)
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Reziac
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-ly words exist to be used. The key, like with all words, is to use them properly.

Now imagine that statement without the -ly word.

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rcmann
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Styles change. Heinlein was a product of the early twentieth century, and he spoke in that vernacular. Today, the word 'presently' sounds old-fashioned and somewhat stilted to many people. Partly it also depends on your location. Some parts of the country are more conservative in their speech than others. (Conservative as in, prone to conserving traidtional speech patterns and words.)

I had a boss once who hated the words 'present' and 'presently, and demanded that they be replace with 'current' and 'currently' whenever possible in just about every tech document we wrote. He couldn't give a rational explanation for it, he just didn't like them. Everyone has their pre-programmed responses to certain forms of language, and I suspect that most of them go back into the depths of our childhood.

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Styles change. Heinlein was a product of the early twentieth century, and he spoke in that vernacular. Today, the word 'presently' sounds old-fashioned and somewhat stilted to many people. Partly it also depends on your location. Some parts of the country are more conservative in their speech than others. (Conservative as in, prone to conserving traidtional speech patterns and words.)

I had a boss once who hated the words 'present' and 'presently, and demanded that they be replace with 'current' and 'currently' whenever possible in just about every tech document we wrote. He couldn't give a rational explanation for it, he just didn't like them. Everyone has their pre-programmed responses to certain forms of language, and I suspect that most of them go back into the depths of our childhood.

I agree with you, except that this is past tense narration.

If I'm talking to someone and I ask where Jim is and they say "presently, he's in storage room," it means that's where he is right now (and implies that maybe he was somewhere else earlier and will be again later.)

But if I'm telling you this story about how Jim did A, B, C, then "presently he was in the storage room." What's the purpose of "presently?"

I think it used to serve as a code word meaning "now we're getting to the good part" or it's trying to add immediacy. I know Awdry used "presently" in the former sense in his Thomas tails.

But Heilein has that wonderful scene where Kip sets the beacon on Pluto. That scene is dripping with immediacy and the whole thing is the "good part." Yet at one point he throws the word "presently" in there.

To me it was distracting. I suspect it didn't distract the typical reader in 1958 because it was more common, perhaps even disappearing similar to how "said" disappears.

But I still don't think it served any purpose even if it wasn't offensive.

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MAP
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I don't think I've used presently, but I have used now in a past tense narrative. Usually as a transition from past to the present time of the story even though that story is written in past tense.

For example:

"Joan picked up the picture on the table. Cathy looked so beautiful in that crisp white dress with her long dark hair cascading down the back. She had worn that dress every Sunday for a year, and now she was buried in it."

This sounds right to my ear even though now is used with past tense, so technically it isn't now now, just now in the story. If that makes any sense.

I'm not sure if this is your issue with past tense and presently, but I can see presently being used in this way to transition from a flash back. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there is anything wrong with using it that way.

[ May 10, 2013, 10:36 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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rcmann
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Isn't that using it in the subjunctive tense?
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extrinsic
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I understand "subjunctive" is a conditional mood or subjective case, not per se a tense, though several future tenses are subjunctive mood.

"Presently" is used in many cases as a subjunctive term: an idiom meaning soon or maybe soon.

Use of "now" as MAP uses it, "now she was buried in it," is a significant use, signaling time, now within the setting's time and ongoing into the future. I suppose that could be subjunctive from referencing "now" in the character's perception but some time in the past or future if futuristic from a reader's perspective, hence the absolute time of the "now" moment is subjective.

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Robert Nowall
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A somewhat cynical take on the use of "presently"---if you say "sometime soon," that's two words to one---and if the market pays by the word, that's an increase of one hundred percent with the same meaning. (Sorry. Once I thought of it, I just had to put it here.)
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JSchuler
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There's only one adverb I have a tough time eliminating.
quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
-ly words exist to be used. The key, like with all words, is to use them properly.

Now imagine that statement without the -ly word.

I imagine that "properly" would be replaced by a guideline that would help a writer know when it's appropriate to use an -ly word.

Take a close look at that statement, and you can see one of the problems with -ly words: it doesn't say anything. "Use them properly" is a truism. Who would ever say that something should not be properly used? Adverbs make it easy to take a detour around the profound.

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extrinsic
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I submit the word "properly" has a narrow connotation when applied to language. Decorum, the rhetorical principle, asserts that language should suit the subject matter, each to each other, to the occasion, and to the audience. This is one narrow connotation of the terms "proper" and "properly." Similalry, proper language used properly is easily accessible, appealing, and persuasive. These are all matters of rhetoric, one of the principles of which is that what in one instance may be virtuous may in another instance be vice.

And to any given auditor, one virtue may be to another given auditor a vice. The central topic of this thread hosted by RyanB surrounding use of the word "presently" illustrates that principle.

What is profound for me about adverb use is when it artfully expresses commentary, especially attitude. Albeit, "properly" may not be profound to every auditor, its use by Reziac is subtly profound in that the use signals more than one meaning, the tangible one being less appreciable than the intangible, large-than-life one.

[ May 12, 2013, 12:00 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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I submit that adverbs lack the capacity for narrowness, which is their central virtue/failing. They allow for the rapid communication of an idea in exchange for loss of detail. This requires the reader to fill in the gaps, placing more work on the shoulders of the reader to derive meaning from the author's work, exacerbating the virtue/vice issue.

For example, you, extrinsic, filled in "properly" with... well.. whatever you filled it in with to make it work for you. I did not, and there was nothing in the statement or the context to prompt me to fill it in as you did, or as Reziac did when he wrote it. Thus, you see it as virtue, I see it as vice, and Reziac has surrendered the opportunity to influence either of us one way or the other.

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Grumpy old guy
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It's interesting to note that everyone thinks that all adverbs end in ...ly. What about adverbs about time, for instance: Andrew arrived late. Or, what about adverbs of place: ...the boys were kept inside?

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Adjective "proper" and adverb "properly," their denotations and connotations express narrowed sets. Proper nouns are a subset of nouns. A proper set is a subset of all the intergers of a set; for example, (2, 4, 6, 8) is a subset of the binary integer set. Proper grammar is a given subset of language. Proper diction for a profanity contest is still a proper set, profanity properly used. Proper diction for a church service, likewise, is a proper set.

Using adverbs properly means using them in a narrowed manner. Though widely deprecated, surely "Tom Swifties" are a proper adverb usage, belonging to the subset of adverbs used artlessly as dialogue tag "said" modifiers.

From the Turkey City Lexicon:

"Tom Swifty
An unseemly compulsion to follow the word “said” with a colorful adverb, as in “‘We’d better hurry,’ Tom said swiftly.” This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift adventure dime-novels. Good dialogue can stand on its own without a clutter of adverbial props."

I understood Reziac's use of the term "properly" to express narrowed literal and figurative meanings: literally, meaning artful, judicious, and timely use of the subset of L-Y adverbs and, figuratively, an irony of the terms "proper" or "properly," narrower yet meanings, commonly used to mean clearly defined, socially acceptable and approved behaviors, i.e., proper manners.

[ May 11, 2013, 10:45 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
It's interesting to note that everyone thinks that all adverbs end in ...ly. What about adverbs about time, for instance: Andrew arrived late. Or, what about adverbs of place: ...the boys were kept inside?

Phil.

I'm not part of that everyone nor have I properly or presently thought all adverbs end in L-Y.
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Grumpy old guy
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I meant a 'generic' everyone, not a literal, literary everyone. (Removes foot from mouth and severs thumbs)

Fil.

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Robert Nowall
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It's the "Schoolhouse Rock" influence on us older types. "Lolly-lolly-lolly, get your adverbs here..."
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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:Using adverbs properly means using them in a narrowed manner.
Well, no #$%@. That's still a useless response, as the initial question is asking about that "narrowed manner."

Q: "What is the proper use of 'Presently'"
A: "To use it properly."

What is "properly?" Well, now we need to define that, because "properly" can be whatever the reader imagines (which is why it is not narrow, which has nothing to do with whether the word "properly" implies narrowness). That initial answer? "Use it properly?" Cut it. It doesn't tell us anything. The question asked assumes there is a narrow manner for using the word "Presently," or it would not have been asked. By using an adverb instead of spelling out what the author meant, the answer is looped, and it becomes the literary equivalent of a GOTO 10 line.

This should be evident in the fact that for all your attempts at defining "properly," you never come close to elucidating any rule that can tell someone when they are not using an adverb in a proper manner.

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extrinsic
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We speak different dialects of English, not just you and I, everyone. Mine is a spectrum with rare extremes of exclusively prescriptive or entirely discretionary usage and a Bell curve plot expressing language's melded vagaries and nuances. A very few words possess widely accepted, precise meanings. Most words express a gamut of meanings that developed context and texture clarify. The way any given word is used may express a specific, nuanced meaning.

The Laws of Adverb Usage According to Hoyle

  • There is no absolute law of adverbs, no rule either, only guidance.
  • Use adverbs to express concise meaning,
  • Use adverbs to modify when no other clear and robust verb or other part of speech modified will do instead.
  • Use adverbs to express commentary, to express emotional context and texture, to express an attitude toward a topic or subject; most often, an artfully deployed adverb answers a "how" question, as in "artfully" used herein.
  • Use adverbs conscientiously, consciously, sparingly, timely, and judiciously. ("According to Hoyle" is an idiom alluding to the gospel of poker rules enumerated in the eighteenth century according to Edmund Hoyle.)

"Tom Swifty" from the Turkey City Lexicon is an example I gave for when adverbs are not artfully used. I avoid the term "properly" because the denotative definition of properly simply means in a specific manner. Tom Swifties are a specific subset of adverb use which is deprecated but not prohibited. Herein I use artfully to mean persuasively.

Another subset of artless adverb use which accords with the Laws of Adverb Usage is when modifying a weak verb, like run, for example. Swiftly run. Why not jog, sprint, canter, skip, bolt, or any verb of a large proper set of words describing fast ambulation instead? Walk, similarly, has a wide set of more robust verbs.

On the other hand, artful adverb usage expresses commentary, emotional texture, and attitude: simply, how and perhaps why an action is performed. A commentary the last law above expresses is an irony, a verbal irony, meant for comic (emotional) irony. Verbal irony expresses one meaning and intends another meaning. Where situational irony intends one meaning and unintentionally expresses another meaning. Listing five adverbs to illustrate the point of concise adverb usage contravenes the principle, but expresses a commentary about artless overuse that has a humorous effect for auditors of that inclination.

Emotional use of adverbs also expresses commentary and follows the same laws as above. "A night darkly lived" has a stronger figurative meaning than the literal one of dimly lit or complete absence of light. Darkly used therein means a gamut of possibilities that require prior setup to express clarity. Self-serving villainry? Cruel and grueling toil? In tragic isolation?

Expressing attitude through adverb usage similarly follows the same laws as above. Watch any news program anymore and note how much adverb usage expresses the commentator's attitude toward the topic or subject. I just switched channels to collect an example and the very first sentence had "Corporations continually take advantage of legal loopholes." By the way, "very" as I just used it is also an adverb expressing an attitude.

Summarizing for the present moment, artful adverb usage expresses commentary, emotion, and attitude. Artless adverb usage blunts meaning, weakly describes action, and diminishes clarity and concision and, of course, does not express accessible commentary, emotion, or attitude.

Additionally, adverb usage may not only express emotion, it may evoke emotional responses. Men's language and women's language, more precisely, masculine and feminine language, respectively, use adverbs differently. Masculine language generally avoids adverbs. Masculine sensibility readers may find adverbs are annoying, especially the L-Y ypes. Feminine language, on the other hand, uses adverbs to express emotion and emotional bonding. Feminine sensibility readers may find adverbs are emotionally appealing. Use of "presently" in its several meanings, for example, may appeal to feminine readers' sensibilities. This too is a spectrum of individual sensibilities, though, with rare extremes exclusively masculine or feminine and a Bell curve plot expressing any given individual's weight of feminine and masculine language tendencies.

I still hear the nuns of my grade school years who beat grammar principles into my head with a steel ruler. My hand raised and recognized, I say "May I please go to the bathroom?" The nun says, "Presently."

Lest anyone should be concerned that discrete study and application of grammar principles takes the fun out of my writing process, I enjoy it very much and have far fewer hunches something's not working that I will fail to recognize because of it.

On the other hand, as an editor, I also am able to support a comment about why a punctuation mark, word choice, or phrase, clause, sentence, paragpraph, or composition construction may not work for the target audience.

Yet I also recognize that many writers write by ear and have a native facility with mechanical style. To each according to their art.

Yes, persistent feedback loop, or GOTO 10 Line. One way out of the loop is to develop one's own proper aesthetic that's consistent, accessible, and appealing to the audience of one's choosing.

[ May 16, 2013, 05:55 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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<peering at own stuff>

So far I've used "presently" 8 times in about 240k words.

About half are used as "at the current moment" (...was presently a supply administrator...) and the rest are used to mean "after a short while" (...presently he looked up...) It was the right and efficient word at each point. Obsolescent? I don't care. [Big Grin]

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