4

Some verbs have senses that are somehow positive. For example, consider

protected
sheltered 
supported

And thus the opposites of these verbs has the related negative senses:

unprotected
unsheltered
unsupported

On the other side, some adverbs have senses that are somehow positive. For example, consider:

fully
completely
perfectly

Now, when we use these positive adverbs with those verbs that have the positive senses, it sounds natural:

perfectly protected
fully supported

To the contrary, when we use such positive adverbs for those verbs that have negative senses, it sounds unnatural:

perfectly unprotected
fully unsupported

Is there anything unidiomatic about such usages? And, if so, how do we usually avoid them?What adverb can we use for example for "unprotected" to means "perfectly unprotected"?

  • 1
    "The spectacle was splendidly terrible to the watchers in Boston." - "The Battle of Bunker Hill" by Stephen Crane – RaceYouAnytime Jul 18 '17 at 22:58
  • You are also sort of venturing into the territory of oxymoron like usages or things that are very similar to them. An oxymoron is not always illogical. It's more like a play on words. A good example is Jumbo Shrimp. Technically it's an oxymoron. How can it be huge and small at the same time? But it just means it's the largest variety of something we know to be small (it's not actually illogical). What you are talking about above is on very similar ground (different but still similar). – Kace36 Jul 18 '17 at 23:25
  • It's like doing terrible wonderful things to someone's body. We see in this and other examples here that such oil & vinegar lends itself to satirical use. The contradiction produces an interesting mix. – Yosef Baskin Jul 18 '17 at 23:29
  • @YosefBaskin So any suggestion for which adverbs to use in such conditions? – Sasan Jul 19 '17 at 14:12
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    Your question suggests that "completely", being positive, would not work with negative verbs like "unprotected". But that is a great word to use "completely unprotected" is completely idiomatic. – AndyT Jul 19 '17 at 14:40
3

In At Dawn We Slept, Gordon Prange's definitive work on Pearl Harbor, he has some excellent quotes from military men with strongly expressed opinions.

I recall one of them describing a colleague as perfectly useless. So it's definitely possible to use these expressions idiomatically, especially in a context where "negative" things like weakness or isolation are seen as desirable by an attacker, or by people whose thoughts run along these lines.

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    Yes, but that is an idiosyncrasy of perfectly which has a (rather old-fashioned) use as an intensifier, meaning completely, separate from is primary meaning related to perfect. – Colin Fine Jul 18 '17 at 23:17
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    @ColinFine I'm suggesting more generally that "positive" and "negative" are subjective concepts that depend on the point of view being represented by the author, and that the combination of a positive adverb with a negative verb is fairly common, just as it is in expressions like a pious fraud or honor amongst thieves. – Global Charm Jul 18 '17 at 23:43
  • @GlobalCharm I don't think he was was chiding you. He was just pointing out that oddness of perfectly. I agree with you as well. – Kace36 Jul 19 '17 at 0:00
  • @Kace36 Apologies to you and ColinFine (only one notification per post, I've just discovered). I'm a big fan of Gordon Prange, and I used his book as an example even though there are probably better examples out there. Sorry for sounding defensive. – Global Charm Jul 19 '17 at 0:40
  • @Kace36 So do you have any adverb to suggest for use in cases like "perfectly unprotected" where "unprotected" is taken as negative? – Sasan Jul 19 '17 at 14:15

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