I’ve seen the adverbs  firstly, secondly, thirdly,  and so forth, used in texts that are pretty old, but there’s no reason for them. The forms aren’t logical, since  first, second, third, last  are already adverbs. They don’t need to have the  –ly  appended to them. They’re a little like the phony word  irregardless,  with the double negative supplied by a prefix and a suffix. That word is supposed to mean “without regard,” but its form suggests instead “not without regard.” At least  firstly  doesn’t do that. It means, “in a first kind of way,” “in a before-everything-else manner,” but what does that say that  first  doesn’t already say? Rule of style: just use the real old adverbs, and forget the redundant suffix.

Word of the Day Yet, to cut  firstliers  a little slack: speakers use redundancies all the time when the basic form is no longer “heard” in full. A case in point:  foremost.  That’s a double superlative. Think of the m in Latin superlatives:  miserrimus, most miserable, facillimus, easiest.  That m shows up in our old word meaning  before everything else:  our modern word  former.  But after a while people no longer “heard” the m as a superlative. So they had to tack on  another superlative suffix,  the common –st:  foremost, before everything else that is before everything else.

blog comments powered by Disqus