Okay, I don’t go “Grammar Nazi” in general, because I believe people should be able to write whatever they want, and use whatever words fit the situation. However, I’ve seen this same issue come up in three different podcast fiction stories, from three different professional authors, and I gotta find closure on this.

I hate the word “instantaneously”. Let’s put aside the general writing advice that says, “Kill all the adverbs”. If you want to say that something suddenly happened, it seems like “suddenly” isn’t good enough anymore. “Instantly” is better than “suddenly” because it means something happened even faster. But “instantaneously” is even better than “instantly” because it’s even faster-er!!

This is bad writing, because it’s being used as a cheap trick to make something seem hyperbolically amazing. The thing that really bugs me is that it’s not just bad, it’s wrong.

When you say “instantaneous” you’re talking about the time between two events. Specifically, you’re talking about zero time between events. You can say that the sun instantly blew up, but you can’t say that it instantaneously blew up. That’s one event, untethered by time to another event, indicating that zero time elapsed between the sun blowing up and . . . no other event. It doesn’t make any sense.

You could say “The cannon fired and the sun instantaneously blew up,” but even that is bad, because it couldn’t happen that way. Once the cannon fired, the bullet (cannonball, plasma shot, whatever) had to leave the barrel, traverse that distance to the sun, penetrate it’s circumference, start an explosion (implosion, whatever), and shrink or dissipate the sun. . . However you do it, there is more than zero time between events. That’s just physics.

So, yes, I am being “Grammar Nazi” and I know I’ve made bigger mistakes in my writing, but seriously. When I read about something happening “instantaneously”, it takes me out of the narrative and leaves me with one thought. There’s a writer who doesn’t think their story can stand on it’s own without illogically inflated adverbs.

Now, get into the comments, and tell me why I’m wrong. Go cut and paste definitions, and tell me why I’m priggish and stuffy. Do it now, instantaneously.

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  1. Icepick says:

    While I love a good rant, doesn’t instantaneous refer to the duration of an event and not, necessarily, the time elapsed between two events? Therefore, wouldn’t “the sun blew up instantaneously” mean that the sun’s explosion occurred over a period of imperceptible time?

    • The argument could be made that an event is described by it’s own beginning and ending (in this case, the sun beginning to blow up, and the sun being blown up). But “Instantaneously” doesn’t refer to a type of measurable time. It refers to zero time. So, if it took any time at all (whether perceived or not) then it wasn’t instantaneous.

      And yeah, I know I’m just nitpicking, but it bugs me when people use the term for hyperbole.

  2. I’m in your camp on this one, Mr. Admin but it’s yet to make me hit the reading brakes the way that missing words do. That, in a supposed finished product, really pisses me off. Sorry, this isn’t the rant you were looking for. (yes, I ended that with a preposition. Couldn’t be helped.)

    • Hey, ending a sentence with a preposition isn’t going to get me nearly as mad as inaccurate hyperbole. Like I said, I’m not normally a grammar nazi. 🙂