“I have always been fascinated with the complexities of the human body…”

Full text:

“I have always been fascinated with the complexities of the human body,…both physically and psychologically.”

The adverbial ending takes down another serious writer!

He was describing his plans for a class project (rather than order a $100+ cinderblock of an anthology, I decided to assign each student to create an anthology of literature on a subject of his or her own choosing). In this first step, students’ topics tend toward the very general, very abstract, very huge. His anthology was going to present literature that dealt with the human body. (We have since made the topic much more specific.)

What he meant in this sentence was that he wanted to include literature that explored literature that presented psychological responses to the body, as well as literature that described or celebrated the physical body. I know this because we had a conference.

The sentence itself says something quite different—indeed, something that the casual reader might find downright disconcerting.

An adverb can modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

The other adverb in the sentence is “always,” but to say that one can be “physically always and psychologically always fascinated”—or even “always physically etc.”— would mean a speaker who is truly obsessed, and I’m pretty sure this student isn’t that.

The adjective in the sentence is “human,” and I suppose we might entertain the idea of a body that is both physically human and psychologically human: it’s put together like a person and has the emotions and motives of a person too. In a sort of way this approaches what the student actually meant, but only in a sort of way.

The (passive) verb is “have been fascinated,” and that’s what those adverbs most logically modify. That’s also where the shocker lies for the reader: “I have been fascinated psychologically”; “I have been fascinated physically.” Try not to picture a Peeping Tom in a state of arousal, thinking lewd thoughts. Try even harder not to let him into the room with the body in question, especially if he is a Marquis.

To save this apparently sweet student from such suspicions, try lopping off the adverbial endings to make adjectives that can modify “complexities” (or possibly “body”): “I have always been fascinated with the complexities of the human body, both physical and psychological.” The reader may still be left to ponder the ways in which a body can have psychological complexities, but at least that curiosity will be appropriately directed.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““I have always been fascinated with the complexities of the human body…”

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