poorly child

< Previous | Next >

velisarius

Senior Member
British English (Sussex)
From today's Guardian newspaper: "she had less time to spend with him while she looked after their poorly child."
The baby in question was "born deaf and blind and with lung problems" and "spent the first [and only] six months of her life in hospital".
I have not lived in the UK for a long time, but is seems to me that this use of "poorly" is an outrageous and cowardly way of backing away from finding another word to describe what used to be called a severely handicapped baby.

I remember when "poorly" used to describe someone laid up in bed with a heavy cold. Is it really used so loosely nowadays?
 
  • dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    I totally agree, this seems a very inappropriate usage of 'poorly'. However, 'poorly' as you, and I, know it I would consider old-fashioned. To be honest, I haven't heard it used since my Grandparents were around.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I shan't go into the political correctness of all this, so I expect my post will be deleted.

    What I find bizarre is the positioning of the adjective "poorly" before the noun it qualifies.
    Every time I encountered this very British, informal adjective, it was always part of the predicate (e.g., His life was very poorly).

    But of course it may be me.
    GS
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    I am on board too, even in AE, this is a really bad usage of "poorly", particularly in this case.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Yes Giorgio, that position of "poorly" in front of the noun bothered me too, though much less than the word itself.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I have always understood 'poorly' to mean 'having an on-going condition that incapacitates the sufferer to a noticeable extent." It is particularly, and probably purposely, vague. Its meaning stretches from "I was feeling poorly.", e.g. suffering from influenza, to the example you gave. It applies to a short spell of illness all the way to a permanent, incapacitating condition.

    It is also in a similar category to "minced oaths" = not so much a euphemism, but more a reticence to specify: "He died last week. He had been poorly for some time." could well indicate he had had cancer, and there are still enough people who don't like even to say the word 'cancer.'
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Poorly is an adjective... The WR dictionary gives "ADJ 'in poor health; rather ill'".

    GF..

    This usage is relatively common.. although it does sound a bit like a "telegram"...
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Some people speak like that; they probably think that it expresses concern and sympathy.
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    It was good enough in the 20th century, so it is good enough in the 21st.
    Does this logic apply to all centuries? If it was good enough in the 13th, it's good in the 14th? So, we can extrapolate! It's good to know that 13th century English is still acceptable though. :D
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    I don't understand GS's objection to position. Adjectives normally go before the nouns they modify. Think of it as while she looked after their sick child.
    The problem with poorly is that, although it is of course an adjective, the 'ly' makes it look like an adverb. Perhaps that's why it looks curious at first before a noun.

    As to the appropriateness of the word, I find its use here entirely unremarkable (apart from that I would have expected 'very poorly'). Perhaps the journalist did not want to overemphasize that the child was handicapped (deaf and blind) given that this is mentioned later in the article. Besides, the word "handicapped" has unfortunately fallen victim to political correctness, and is not used much these days. In any case, I doubt whether "poorly" was intended to refer to those disabilities; rather it was meant to indicate that the child was "in a bad way" or "very ill" or "on the brink of death", due either to its lung problems or to other conditions.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Hullo, Edinburgher. :)

    As I said, the fact that on the relatively few occasions when I met this adjective it was invariably inside the Predicate made me wonder whether the adjective "poorly" might belong to the category of adjectives that are exclusively used predicatively, e.g. "afraid", "aware", asleep", etc.
    My ignorance, no doubt.

    GS
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I searched for older examples of "a poorly child", and it seems I was wrong on both counts; it has been widely used, in exactly this form, since the last half of the nineteenth century and in exactly the same way as "a sick child". It now strikes me that the usage that was familiar to me ("she felt poorly on the Monday, but by Wednesday she was right as rain") was a kind of aberration from the normal use, which is as described by Paul in post #6.

    Many thanks to everyone who posted in the thread.
     
    Last edited:

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thanks for starting this very interesting thread!

    I just wanted to add that Giorgio is not wrong in associating poorly with its predicative use. This is the typical position, and the WR Dictionary certainly notes this point:
    adj
    (usually postpositive) informal in poor health; rather ill
    I think that perhaps aberration is a little too strong to describe what you were familiar with. A lot of us encounter the word in an informal, social context - which gives rise to its association with mild illness ('Oh, have you been poorly?'). I have that association too, and I'd venture to say that a significant number will have it as well.
     

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Thank you, Nat.
    I suspect much of the fuss is created by the very simple fact that it's not easy not to "feel" "poorly" to be an adverb even when it's used as an adjective: veli's example sentence is paradigmatic: "she felt poorly (≈ badly, miserably, etc.) on the Monday, but by Wednesday she was right as rain".

    GS :)
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    dadane,

    Does this logic apply to all centuries? If it was good enough in the 13th, it's good in the 14th? So, we can extrapolate! It's good to know that 13th century English is still acceptable though. :D
    It has been used is within my lifetime. I use it: so it's good enough.

    GF..
    poorly:- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/poorly in poor health; somewhat ill: I hear she's been poorly.
    Origin:

    1250–1300; Middle English pourely. See poor, -ly
    Now if that is not the 13th century then I am a monkey's uncle. Or did you look that up before you posted? :D:thumbsup:
     
    Last edited:

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    1250–1300; Middle English pourely. See poor, -ly
    Now if that is not the 13th century then I am a monkey's uncle. Or did you look that up before you posted? :D:thumbsup:
    :D Very funny. Actually, I didn't. I just seems to be a term which is, for want of a better description, going out of fashion. My Nan used it, my Mum still uses it, but I don't know anybody of my generation who does.

    I note the first OED reference of 'poorly' in this context (in my edition - and we have hit the issue of older citations being removed in later editions before) is 1573.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    From today's Guardian newspaper: "she had less time to spend with him while she looked after their poorly child."
    The baby in question was "born deaf and blind and with lung problems" and "spent the first [and only] six months of her life in hospital".
    I have not lived in the UK for a long time, but is seems to me that this use of "poorly" is an outrageous and cowardly way of backing away from finding another word to describe what used to be called a severely handicapped baby.

    I remember when "poorly" used to describe someone laid up in bed with a heavy cold. Is it really used so loosely nowadays?
    Accepting that the usage is old-fashioned, I don't see a problem.

    For me 'handicapped' and 'poorly' mean different things. They are neither synonyms nor nor mutually exclusive. Being deaf and/or blind does not make you 'poorly' but a persistent lung condition might.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top