Grammar Usage

A very acclaimed critical review?

Q: Is it correct to refer to “very critically acclaimed reviews,” as I heard on NPR of all places, or should it be “very acclaimed critical reviews?” Your reply will be very critical in resolving a dispute between my wife and me.

A: Sorry, but the two of you had better kiss and make up. As so often happens in marital spats, both parties are wrong. And so was whoever misspoke on NPR.

If you took the NPR speaker literally, you’d assume the reviews were “critically acclaimed,” not the book or play or movie or whatever was being reviewed.

And if you were really literal minded, you might think “very” modified “critically,” thus the reviews were very critical, rather than very acclaimed.

To be fair, most people would have figured out what the NPR speaker presumably intended—that the work being reviewed was acclaimed. But that doesn’t excuse sloppy English.

The second expression (“very acclaimed critical reviews”) is also a mess if the work reviewed (a play, let’s say) was a critical success.

Taken literally, the expression would refer to brilliantly scathing and much-quoted negative reviews of the play. We can think of one such review, offhand.

In 1934, Dorothy Parker commented on Katharine Hepburn’s performance in a play called The Lake: “Miss Hepburn runs the whole gamut of emotion from A to B.”

The play is long forgotten, but not that very acclaimed critical review!

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