Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

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.

9 Responses to “Nice and Easy”

  1. bearing said

    Maybe it’s a subject-modifying secondary predicate

    Thank you for providing me with a snappy comeback for the next time my husband tells me I need to use an adverb in situations like this. At least in front of the kids.

  2. I cannot recommend Pill Pockets highly enough. I have a cat with a seizure disorder. She is so twitchy and nervous (when she isn’t seizing), that forcing a pill down her throat causes her to avoid me for days. This is an animal that runs and hides if you take a step towards her; I only touch her when I’m sitting or lying down, and she feels safe enough to approach me. How then to medicate her?

    Pill Pockets: I wrap the pill inside the treat and she gobbles it up like candy. The only challenge is keeping the other cat from eating the treat instead.

  3. Jan Freeman said

    I like “to pill” as a verb (and am amazed to see it dates to 1736). It reminded me of how young moms (including my daughters) use the verbs “nap” and “pee” these days; “nap her” means “put down for a nap” and “pee him” means “carry sleeping child [out of diapers but needing a pit stop] to the bathroom for unconscious urination.” No doubt the mommy blogs have more examples of such innovation.

    • Neal said

      I’ve never heard either of those two verbs, though I have heard of “bath-ing” a kid (not “bathing” from “bathe,” but “bath-ing” from the noun “bath”).

  4. The Ridger said

    My vet said the best way to do this was make sure the cat is squared up, and then pull her head back with your hand over her face and one finger between her upper canines. That will open up her throat for the pill to go down … niiiiice and eeeeeeasy. Then close her mouth with your other hand, hold it closed by putting the finger that was between her teeth under her chin, and stroke her neck with your now-free other hand.

    It works for me, but then Gwen doesn’t need to be pilled on a regular basis.

  5. Donna said

    Aren’t “nice” and “easy” considered flat adverbs?

    Also, your use of “pill” as a verb reminds of a sentence I recently heard: “I office in Houston.”

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