Nice and Easy
Posted by Neal on October 11, 2010
Four out of our five cats are on one kind of medication or other. Flowers has arthritis, and gets an anti-inflammatory medicine sprinkled on his food every night. I put it directly in front of him and just hope he’ll decide to eat it before the other cats come along and notice it. Nick has chronic nasal problems — you can tell what window perch he likes to sit on because that’s where the glass is spattered with dried cat snot. So he gets a powdered lysine supplement every night that isn’t perceptilbly helping, stirred up in a tablespoon of no-fat yogurt. And Diamond and Sinatra, our wall-urinators, each get half a tablet of amitriptylene, which is supposed to reduce bladder inflammation for those times when they actually have a urinary tract infection, and just mellow them out when they’re peeing on walls because of displeasure or stress.
Diamond’s and Sinatra’s medicine is harder to give, because we have to shove the pill down their throat, or at least get it far enough back there that they’ll swallow it involuntarily. (I wrote about one time that it didn’t go so well here.) With Diamond there’s the additional complication that she has become hypersensitive to when someone is approaching her with intent to pill, and can quickly disappear down the basement steps to hide in the crawl space. In fact, she spends most of her time in the basement now to begin with, at least when people are around. Sinatra doesn’t like getting pilled any more than Diamond does, but he doesn’t let it ruin his whole day.
Doug and I have a routine for pilling the cats on the days when we can get them to the pilling table (also sometimes used for air hockey). He’ll bring the cat — we’ll say Sinatra (you know, the one who let Doug and his friend sniff him) — and put him on the old towel we keep on the pilling table, and together we’ll wrap him up in it. Then Doug leans down and keeps his arm around Sinatra while I get the pill.
“Doug, how do you think we should do this?” I ask.
“Let’s do it nice and easy,” Doug answers.
“I agree. I think nice and easy is the strategy to go with. OK, Sinatra, let’s do this niiiice and eeeeasy…”
I tilt Sinatra’s chin back with my left hand and pry open his jaws with my right middle finger.
Niiice and eeeasy…
Then I drop the pill down his throat, nice and easy. If I’m lucky. Sometimes the pill will land between the tongue and the cheek, and Sinatra will just spit it out. Then we have to try again with a fresh pill, this time working with Sinatra’s slippery, saliva-soaked mouth and chin. Once it took four tries before we were able to do it nice and easy.
Doing this day after day, I’ve been wondering about the phrase nice and easy. It’s fitting in what should be an adverbial slot … isn’t it? Isn’t it modifying the verb phrase do this? Maybe it’s a subject-modifying secondary predicate, like you find in walks around naked or go to bed hungry. But no, I don’t think I’m describing myself as nice or easy. This really should be an adverb, so now the question is: Are nice and easy adjectives that can also act as adverbs, like fast and slow?
With thoughts like these going through my head, I’ll sometimes change things up a little, and say,
All right, Sinatra, we’re going to do this nicely and easily…
Sounds all right. Not quite as natural as nice and easy, but not bad.
On another occasion:
Here we go, Sinatra, niiiice and easily…
Hmmm. Not so good. It only slides by if I take the string nice and to be a frozen chunk of words that acts as an adverb modifying not the verb phrase do this, but the adverb easily. Kind of how good and hot doesn’t necessarily refer to something that’s both good and hot, but rather something that is very hot.
And during yet another pilling:
OK, Sinatra, let’s do this niiiicely and easy…
Oh, man! Now that’s no good! If you make nice into an adverb that unquestionably modifies do this, then you have to make easy into an adverb, too.
And I guess that answers my question: the adjectives nice and easy don’t live a second life as adverbs. If they did, I should be able to coordinate the adverb nicely and the adverb easy. So if they’re not adverbs, but they’re not secondary predicates, either, then why can we talk about doing things like pilling cats and laying your weapons on the ground “nice and easy”? The prescriptive route: Simply forbid it. The descriptive route: Register a minor syntactic rule, to the effect that nice and followed by an adjective has the power to act as an adverb.