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I am used to seeing "leisurely" as an adjective exclusively, as in "walking at a leisurely pace." But today I read it used as an adverb in a New York Times review of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer." It seems archaic to me to use it so (emphasis added):

[The director's] first American studio effort, “Wanted” (2008), is a modestly diverting if finally tedious exercise in which the stylized violence almost upstages its star, Angelina Jolie. “Wanted” is the kind of contemporary studio fun that shows a bullet exiting a human head in slow motion, giving you time to marvel at how the skin around the wound stretches as the projectile leisurely rips through the skull.

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3 Answers 3

My dictionary shows the word as both an adjective and an adverb:

leisurely
(adjective) acting or done at leisure; unhurried or relaxed : a leisurely breakfast at our hotel.
(adverb) without hurry : couples strolled leisurely along.

In your example, it makes sense to use the adverbial form. Why? An adjective would have to modify a noun. What noun would it modify? The writer is not talking about a leisurely projectile, a leisurely wound, leisurely skin, or a leisurely skull. The only thing leisurely in that sentence is the ripping action.

As for describing the formation of an exit wound as leisurely, I don't know if that sounds archaic. Instead, I see the pronounced irony as intentional, as a way to comment on the mood of the director's film.

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1  
which dictionary? can you give a reference or link? –  Mitch Jun 23 '12 at 14:48
    
@Mitch: I pulled those definitions from the dictionary preloaded on my Mac, which is the NOAD. Other online dictionaries, such as Collins, have decidedly similar entries. American Heritage reads: ADJECTIVE: Acting, proceeding, or done without haste; unhurried. ADVERB: In an unhurried manner; slowly. Webster's meanings #1 and #1 at this site convey that same sense of relaxed unhurriedness for both forms of the word, as does my Funk & Wagnalls print edition. –  J.R. Jun 23 '12 at 17:19
    
I don't doubt you or your sources, it's just that it makes things a lot more convenient to look up further details if you give the links right away in your answer. –  Mitch Jun 23 '12 at 19:05
    
@Mitch: I didn't take it as a challenge, and I thought you were right – I should have given the reference in my original post (I usually try to, but sometimes I forget). Since I had to answer your question anyway, I decided it wouldn't hurt to add a few other references. –  J.R. Jun 23 '12 at 21:09

According to Wiktionary, leisurely is acceptable as an adverb.

[...]

Adverb
leisurely (comparative more leisurely, superlative most leisurely)
In a leisurely manner.

Oxford Dictionary of English has an entry of "leisurely" as adverb: "without hurry."

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All your examples use 'leisurely as an adjective -not- as an adverb, the definition you gave at the top of your answer is giving the -meaning- of 'leisurely' nit a usage. 'couples strolled leisurely along...' uses it as an adverb and is equivalent to 'couples strolled in a leisurely manner along...' –  Mitch Jun 23 '12 at 12:15
    
I deleted the examples to avoid confusing in future visitors. Thank you @Mitch –  user19148 Jun 23 '12 at 12:21

Regardless of what dictionaries says about others' usage, I cannot, in general, use any adjectives ending in ly as adverbs (whether with an extra ly or unadorned):

*You're explaining things love(li)ly / good(li)ly / friend(li)ly / ...
(cf, a lovely/goodly/friendly explanation)

Only the most high frequency adjectives in ly are vaguely acceptable as adverbs, yet they require a second ly:

You're running sillily / *silly 
You're singing ?uglily / *ugly

Maybe different regions/ages can behave as the dictionaries describe.


Sequences of identical affixes are frequently banned crosslinguistically. An example in English is the genitive plural of prince, in which only a single [əz] is pronounced (princ[əz], not princ[əzəz]). When one affix fails to surface, the phenomenon is known as haplology. For leisurely-ly etc., haplology is not available in my dialect, and the result is ineffability. Maybe those dialects that allow adverbial leisurely permit haplology here.

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It is difficult to argue that silly and ugly are -ly suffixed at all. Of the two, only ugly has an etymological relationship to -ly, but hasn't been in any way transparent in form for centuries. So, these cases are probably not haplology anyway, but are awkward on phonological grounds. –  Kosmonaut Jun 23 '12 at 15:50
    
That's a really interesting observation. It didn't occur to me as I was writing. That said, there is evidence from neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics that we do decompose morphologically simplex words (like mother) when they end in a recognizable affix (here, er). So, though I agree with you that these may not be cases of haplology in the classic sense, their deviance may be related to the mechanism underlying haplology. –  Daniel Harbour Jun 23 '12 at 16:02
    
Yes, that could be. I was thinking that having two consecutive unstressed syllables starting with /l/ might be the problem (as we don't really have that elsewhere in English I think?), but it might be extremely difficult to disambiguate that from your suggestion. Do you happen to have a reference for that "mother" example (or similar)? I'd like to read an article on that. –  Kosmonaut Jun 23 '12 at 19:28

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