Q: I was appalled at your nonchalance on WNYC about the use of “absolutely” in place of a simple “yes.” Surely this is a juvenile ramping up of ordinary conversation, usually for no valid reason. Example: “Do you want fries with that? ABSOLUTELY!” Consider this new ending of Ulysses: “… and absolutely I said absolutely I will Absolutely.”
A: I don’t remember exactly what I said on WNYC about using “absolutely” in place of a simple “yes,” but I’m sorry that you found it appalling. (Nevertheless, your version of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy made me laugh!)
The Oxford English Dictionary describes the use of “absolutely” for “yes” as colloquial, but cites published references for it by major writers going back nearly two centuries.
Here’s a citation from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): “Is such really the state of matters between you and Rivers?” “Absolutely, sir!”
And here’s one from Mark Twain’s The American Claimant (1892): “Do you mean to say that if he was all right and proper otherwise you’d be indifferent about the earl part of the business?” “Absolutely.”
Also, Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth (1917): “But, sir, was it true to Harrow life?” “Absolutely; and it’s as true to the life of any other Public School.”
More recently, here’s Rex Stout’s The Red Box (1937): “I trust that we are still brothers-in-arms?” “Absolutely. Pals.”
I see nothing wrong with using “absolutely” in place of plain “yes” once in a while in speech or informal writing, but I wouldn’t recommend overdoing it. Once in a while, yes, but not every other sentence.
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