I’ve said it before: considering the amount of emails we all send every day, it’s crucial to use correct English. Languages are living things, so it’s great to let them out of their cages and run around. But, just like an excitable German Shepherd puppy, it’s probably best to keep it on a short leash around guests.
One little issue I notice all the time is adding “-ness” to any old adjective when using it as a noun—for example, the greatness of a person or the sharpness of a knife. These are called nominalized adjectives, and no, they don’t all end with “-ness”. There are a couple egregious (great word) examples of “-ness” abuse, so remembering the correct way could save you from sounding like a “misfit” in a mass email to a board of directors.
As is the case with many linguistic issues, the road to the Island of Misfit Nominalized Adjectives is paved with good intentions. But, being an island, the road doesn’t actually get there. So intentions aside, here are some commonly-misused nominalized adjectives and their ‘better’ counterparts. For your benefit, of course.
“The show’s success is probably due to the hilariousness of its cast.”
“The show’s success is probably due to the hilarity of its cast.”
“She always got attention due to her classiness.”
“She always got attention due to her class.”
“The mayor’s remarks caused a lot of uncomfortableness.”
“The mayor’s remarks caused a lot of discomfort.”
“We’re going through a period of scarceness.”
“We’re going through a period of scarcity.”
“I try to avoid doing things out of angriness.”
“I try to avoid doing things out of anger.”
“That guy loves to compare his successfulness to his old roommate, doesn’t he?”
“That guy loves to compare his success to his old roommate, doesn’t he?”
“You should experience the perfectness of Joe’s grilled cheese.”
“You should experience the perfection of Joe’s grilled cheese.”
Can You Still Use Misfits?
What’s interesting is that my web browser (Chrome) did not detect even one of those examples as misspellings, which suggests they are all in use and that they’re even in some dictionaries. That’s why I said the alternatives were “better,” not “correct.”
So if they’re both right, what do you do? I always believe that if an option already exists, why not use it? However, if the new version sounds better or is more common, that would probably be the best choice for ease of communication.
It’s always best to stick to what’s correct, but if the situation calls for a verbal cowboy who rides an ostrich, by all means, use it. Just like misfit toys, remember to give odd English only to those who will appreciate differentness.