Strangely poorly

Every morning, I get the BBC News newsletter in my email inbox. A sub headline in today’s caught my eye:

BBC News newsletter screenshot

If you didn’t spot it, it’s by the picture of the bird, and says “The state-of-the-art hospital for poorly birds”. This phrase appears to be only in the headline; in the article itself, the word ‘poorly’ doesn’t appear, so it must have been written in by some subeditor putting together the day’s issue.

The use of ‘poorly’ as an adjective sounds strange to my ears, because one usually sees the ‘-ly’ suffix only in adverbs. Is this just a recent colloquial usage? Apparently not – the OED traces the earliest usage of ‘poorly’ as adjective to 1570. However, many of the early uses are of the type “… looking poorly” or “… feeling poorly”, and the dictionary notes that “in attributive use still somewhat colloquial”, and that it is “chiefly British”.


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