"Highly neat"

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Thread: "Highly neat"

  1. #1

    "Highly neat"

    I was reading the novella "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang and I noticed that the protagonist (a linguist) makes a mental note about how another character modifies the word "neat" with "highly".

    "Highly neat" sounds a little uncomfortable to the ear, but I can't figure out why it's actually wrong. Certainly there are levels of "being neat" - aren't there?

    Words like "enthralling", "captivating", "illuminating", etc. are probably better for the situation. But it that all that's wrong with the phrase "highly neat"? Is it just lazy?

  2. #2
    Perhaps English isn't his first language.
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  3. #3

  4. #4
    It could work, if there's a voice and character to support it. What sort of person would say "highly neat"? There might be such a person - someone that attends to neatness and precision to the possibly comical, mildly Praatchettian point of bothering to modify it at all - but if that person is not in this story, it might struggle. Formally wrong? I'd say no. Informally, anything goes. You could probably even mess with those unwritten yet surprisingly robust adjective-word-order heuristics ("The big black dog" versus "the black big dog") and be forgiven, informally.

    What does the linguist character have to say on the subject?

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  5. #5
    "Highly neat" sounds plain wrong to me, unless it's showing that a character struggles a little with their English. I can think of a few modifiers that might give extra punch, such as "excruciatingly neat", and possibly give a little insight into another character. I prefer to write around adverbs when practical though.


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