To go slow or slowly into the night, doing good or well?

People of an authoritarian mindset require rigid rules to follow and to enforce. Others believe that rules for language are written on golden tablets in the sky that only exalted creatures, like sophomore English teachers, have access to (damn: ended my sentence in a proposition – sorry, lady).
Enter the bete noir of us all: slow~slowly. Those who cannot handle subtlety or variation need -ly if slow is used as an adverb, as in “he walked slowly down the aisle”. They insist on signs reading “please go slowly”. Teachers are supposed to say (yell) to students, “please walk slowly in the hallways” versus “please walk slow”.
Sadly, these Prescriptivists are bereft of knowledge of English which would tell them that the adverbial form of ‘slow’ in Old English was ‘slowe’ whose -e dropped off along with all others in the language, leaving ‘slow’ as an adveb without -ly. Then -ly came along and people attached it to ‘slow’, so now we had two versions of the adverbial form for slow………. IMPERMISSIBLE!
They just can’t handle it.
They also refuse to think things through. For instance, the adverbial form of ‘easy’ is ‘easily’, yet people say things routinely like ‘that goes down easy’, referring to a beer or an idea. Just as the Prescriptivist closes in for the kill, that speaker says, “we can do that easily.” No problem – except in the mind of the Prescriptivist who is either annoy at missing an opportunity to slam the speaker on his ignorance of adverbs or enraged that he used ‘easy’ to modify a verb.
A less explosive topic except on listservs and blogs devoted to language is the good~well issue. Same thing: adverb or adjective? Prescriptivists insist that an answer to a verb-centered question like ‘how are you doing’ requires an adverb and the adverbial form of ‘good’ is ‘well’. OTOH, if the Prescriptivists’ hands were not tired from holding up authority, they might open a dictionary to ‘good’ and discover is it labeled both an adjective and an adverb.
That brings up the concept of prescriptivism vs Prescriptivism. (I notice more and more the use of typography to distinguish meanings in print): prescriptive rules are required and usual when establishing a language standard for use in a complex society. But Prescriptivism is used as a cudgel to beat down the lower orders. David Foster Wallace wrote a wonderful piece in Harpers on “snoots”, his family’s word for people like themselves who critiqued everyone’s grammar. It is pretty balanced and worth reading though long. (some might read into it the tortured ambivalence that was ended by his tragic suicide – hear his interview with Terry Gross). Wallace’s ambivalence is felt by most people due to their own tenuous grasp on the crazy, baseless “rules” invented in the 18th century by regulatory pedants set on “regulating” the language.
That is different from establishing a standard. Many countries have standards but do not denigrate non-standard registers and dialects. Not here, though. We Americans for the most part are uncomfortable with the language police but believe they are there for a reason – mainly humiliation at odd moments. But those moments occurred often in classrooms and imprinted on Americans’ brains the stupid notion that native speakers cannot speak their own language “properly”.
I’ll write some more on the connection between prescriptivism and conservatism in the person of Mario Pei when I’ve read an article I have on him. There are also a number of blog entries here discussing this issue.

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