“Absolutely” seems to be the adverb du jour. It rolls forcefully from the tongues of politicians, newscasters and other opinion makers. Here are two similar instances: On March 19th of this year, General George Cassey, commander of American forces in Iraq, rhetorically asked the question if the tension and fragile situation in Iraq came from increased sectarian violence. He answered his own question briskly, “That’s absolutely right.”
Then, on July 25th, Stephen Hadely, the President’s national security adviser, tried the same rhetorical ploy by asking if the situation in Iraq involved sectarian violence that needed to be resolved “if Iraq’s democracy is going to flourish and the situation get stable.”. His direct answer: “Absolutely.”
A decade before, the British television comedy series “Absolutely Fabulous” gave the adverb its ne plus ultra status. And so did more recently WEB sites promoting the virtues and benefits to be found in certain cities, but with recourse to the adjective. “Absolute Austin,” “Absolute Charleston” and “Absolute Albany” are among them. This use of the unqualified adjective brings to mind the successful Absolut Vodka ads of two decades ago.
Absolute is an old word, scientifically legitimized in the idea of “absolute zero,” but my complaint is not with that. “Absolutely” has become a buzz word, expressing iron-bound certainty in this age of uncertainty. Where, adverbs like “probably” and “seemingly” allowed room for some doubt and required further qualification in days when a more peaceful and inquiring world encouraged reflection and reconsideration, our time does not encourage anything that is twixt-and- tween.
It’s all either or—absolutely.