Thursday, 22 September 2011

On being fairly much aware

A correspondent writes to ask if he can say fairly much and still be grammatically correct? If we can have pretty much and very much, he says, can we have fairly much?

A quick trawl of the Internet brings to light quite a few instances, such as:

I'm fairly much aware of that...
I'm fairly much a novice when it comes to marketing...
You can locate virtually anything online now, fairly much...
It's fairly much the same from class to class...
Australia is fairly much in the middle...
This fairly much mirrors my own experience...

What we seem to have here is a lexical issue rather than a grammatical one: we're dealing with a collocational change. Fairly traditionally collocates with well but not much. Words like pretty and very collocate with both. What's probably happening is that the collocates of pretty and very are transferring to fairly.

It's not a usage that's part of my idiolect, but I've heard it occasionally, especially in the north of England. Fairly is one of those words which has quite a wide range of usage in regional dialects in Britain, e.g. She's fairly looking (meaning 'good-looking'). I seem to recall hearing it abroad too, for example in Australia. Can readers of this post add their impressions?

11 comments:

Brad said...

"Fairly well" feels normal to my midlands American upbringing. "Fairly much" is not.

Marc Leavitt said...

I think "fairly much" works - at least in my idiolect(Northeastern US). Part of the problem - if problem there be - is that "much" works as an intensifying descriptor; you're not only "much aware," you are "fairly" much aware," where most people would probably expect "fairly more aware." It's much of a muchness.

DC said...

One thing I forgot to mention is that fairly is recent, as moderators go. Pretty developed its moderator use in the late 16th century, but this use of fairly is 19th century, and its present-day frequency is quite recent. In a study by Matti Rissanen in 2008, it occurred only three times (0.6 occurrences per 100,000 words) in a corpus of data from 1801 to 1900, whereas in late 20th-century corpora it occurred 228 times (5.7 occurrences per 100,000 words). With that kind of frequency increase, it's not surprising to see a widening of collocational range.

Cneifiwr said...

Another example of this is as a qualifier of "OK", as in "I'm fairly OK with that". I have heard "very OK", and I could imagine "pretty OK", but somehow "fairly OK" seems to stand out less.

Perhaps this use of fairly reflects British diffidence and general unwillingness in many situations to come off the fence when expressing an opinion.

Javi said...

As a non-native English speaker, my first impression was, "It doesn't sound natural."

I don't recall reading or hearing it anywhere (but I do recall the other collocations)

As an English teacher, I would be reluctant to encourage such usage.

David Crosbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie said...

As a non-native speaker and an English teacher, I like this fairly much and I'm going to use it! English is full of fair words and usages indeed!

Alex_linguist said...

But don't "fairy well" and "pretty well" mean slightly different things? I thought that "fairy well" was "not bad", whereas "pretty well" meant "rather/very good". Or am I mistaken?

DC said...

The issue isn't about the meaning of these expressions but their grammatical possibility. Yes, 'pretty well' is usually further up the scale of affirmation than 'fairly well'. But a lot depends on context.

MikeyC said...

I've done a search of the two main newspapers in my area, i.e. The Oldham Chronicle and The Yorkshire Post. There were 0 hits in the former, and only 1 hit in the latter.

This appeared as quoted dialogue in the sports column:

"He was fairly much an extrovert, he loved the limelight. He was a very personable young man."

I know I've heard the collocation in my region, but I can't remember in which contexts or by which speakers.

Mar Rojo

Nicola said...

Firstly thanks for such a great talk at Cheltenham Literature Festival last week and for signing my book.

I'd say grammatically this is OK, but from a 'meaning' point of view, I don't like it. 'Fairly aware' would be my preference, the much being superfluous and indicating a muchness which 'fairly' suggests is not actually there...