Everybody knows I use perfect grammar — or at least try to. (Oops—finished the sentence with a preposition.) But sometimes just trying ain’t good enough. That said, I need some English teachers to help sort out a dilemma raised by my friend Irving Rosenfeld, who “feels bad” that I don’t know the difference between “bad” and “badly.”

Referencing a column in this space about the flu’s mechanism in making people “feel badly,” Rosenfeld says he learned in elementary school that the adjective “bad” is needed unless one is referring to one’s sensory ability. But he acknowledges it’s widely debatable and “none other than language maven James J. Kilpatrick (who, incidentally, maintained a residence on South Battery for several years) once wrote about someone in ill spirits ‘feeling badly.’ ”

I, on the other hand, seem to recall (although my fourth-grade English teacher, Ken Hauck, may well recall quite differently) being taught just the opposite — that “badly” in this case is a more proper adverb describing “how” one is feeling, which is one of the things that an adverb is supposed to do. To “feel bad” strikes me as indicating one has literally lost his sense of touch.

But then again, if I were to ask you how your health is, you’d say “bad” if you weren’t feeling well — not “badly” — so I see the point Rosenfeld is making.

Mr. Rosenfeld sends several links, which defend either choice, thus yielding no clear consensus. One of them quotes an 1875 article by Irish Journalist Charles Dod, who argued that “I feel badly” was used as the standard form, in order to avoid the supposedly ambiguous “I feel bad.”

He continued by arguing that badly was functioning as an adjective even though it looked like an adverb.

“The expression (feel badly,)” Dod writes, “is needed; hence it is correct. We must allow the speaker to explain what he means, and not let the grammarians force upon him a meaning which he rejects. ... If we cannot adjust the phrase to our principles, we must adjust the principles to our phrase.

It is a fact that well-educated and respectable people do say, ‘I feel badly.’ Now let us explain the fact. We may have to widen our generalization to let this fact in: but being a fact, we cannot leave it out of view in any theory we may form. We may be sure that we have overlooked something in our analysis of the phrase, ‘I feel badly.’ ”

On the other hand, another link quotes science fiction author Isaac Asimov, who supposedly joked that “Feeling badly is the mark of an inept dirty old man.”

The best I can tell, “I feel bad” is correct and “I feel badly” is idiomatically acceptable — so both work — but I’d like your opinions.

And Ken, if you read this, I’d feel “distressed” if I’ve in any way tarnished your stellar reputation or made you look “bad” in any way. Perhaps I’ll need to stay after school for extra help.


On a much more somber note, the recent stabbing death of a 17-year-old boy in an upper middle class east of the Cooper neighborhood by a 16-year-old is the most recent and shocking in a series of incidents involving that generation and demographic over the past couple of years or so.

When I was coming of age (1970s), there were only two incidents involving unexpected death among members of my immediate peer group: The horrific Eastern Airlines crash from Charleston en route to Charlotte in September 1974, and a car accident involving a single fatality the previous year.

Even now, some 40-plus years later, it’s painful to recall these events, which stunned the community and my extended circle of family and friends. September 11, the day the jet went down, remains a particularly sad day for many Charlestonians on multiple levels.

But my point is there were no murders, drug overdoses or — more painful than anything — suicides plaguing our adolescence. My 16-year-old son and his peers have been exposed to the latter two, and the young daughter of a lady physician friend of ours has been exposed to all of it, having lost at least five friends and/or acquaintances over the past seven months.

The question is why, and part of the answer is very clearly social media and modern technology run amok. All of it promotes greater temptation, peer pressure, bullying and desensitization to human suffering, while raising the debate over healthy access to information and free speech versus healthy child rearing. The conundrum is that if parents refuse to let their children participate, they’re socially isolating them.

But if they don’t. ...

It’s a difficult problem that needs an answer.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbretth@comcast.net.