has the use of "frankly" ever been discussed here?

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Mar 8 23:40:35 UTC 2009

On Mar 8, 2009, at 9:49 AM, Jocelyn Limpert wrote:

> I know that the use of "frankly" grates on the ears of many, some
> more than
> others.
> Does anyone have a similar aversion to the use of the word and any
> background on its use or nonuse?
> Just curious as I know an editor who absolutely loathes its use,
> verbally [specifically,  orally] as well as in print. Sorry for this
> common phrase, but to him I know it is like "fingernails on a
> blackboard." Similarly, it is a word I've long avoided.

first point: the use of "frankly" here is the sentence-adverbial use,
as in the famous "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".  i'd imagine
that the other adverbial uses of the word are innocent as far as the
complainants are concerned: e.g., "They spoke frankly and openly".

(the OED has cites for this use from 1847, but mixed in with manner-
adverbial uses.  it suggests that the sentence-adverbial use is
elliptical, with "to speak" omitted.)

second point: as others have observed, i'm guessing that that
objections to sentence-adverbial "frankly", though couched here as
simple visceral responses to the usage (with no account of what about
it is so offensive), are based on the way the expression is sometimes
used in conversational exchanges -- to introduce something that's
likely to be unwelcome or unpleasant to the addressee, even to be
sarcastic.  so the objection to sentence-adverbial "frankly" comes
from some people's perception (not necessarily accurate) that it is
usually used this way.  the objection is not really to the word
itself, but to the speech-act it sometimes performs -- which could be
managed in other ways: "to be frank", "to speak frankly", "to tell the
truth", "truth be told", "to be honest", etc.

i wouldn't of course dispute some people's negative associations with
particular words (no doubt there are people who find the word
"breadfruit" disgusting).  this is the "cringe word" phenomenon
discussed in several postings to Language Log (apparently verging into
the "word rage" phenomenon also discussed there, at least for people
like the editor you mention).  but many cringes are idiosyncratic, or
arise from associations that are not specific to the word in question,
but follow from the meaning it conveys.



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