Jasprizza Will asks Language Log if rotely is a “real word.” Mark Liberman replies that it occurs in newspaper writing — even, on occasion, in the New York Times — and in the scholarly journals. For example, Carol Sue Englert et al. write in “Influence of Irrelevant Information in Addition Word Problems on Problem Solving” (1987),
Blankenship and Lovitt (1976), for example, found that in the presence of irrelevant numerical information, LD [Learning Disabled] students rotely added all numbers.
The more subtle question is whether rotely can be used as an adverb. In this example, it modifies added, and Liberman provides instances of rotely modifying turned out, tinkled out and affixed, in addition to usages like “material rotely learned” and “rotely feminized ‘conformity’.” Now, sometimes the -ly suffix turns a noun into an adjective (for example, kingly), but television raised me to think that its main use is turning adjectives into adverbs:
For adverbial rotely to feel legitimate, one would have to be comfortable with rote as an adjective. This might happen if you interpret constructions like rote learning as adjective + noun, instead of seeing rote as an attributive noun. (Was there ever a time when grade-school grammar lessons included talk of attributive nouns? I sure don’t remember any. Heck, talk of grammar didn’t make any sense at all until I studied foreign languages, Latin in particular. Long litanies of “rules” which must ne’er be “broken” do not produce understanding. But I digress.)
Or, you could be a lawyer. Joe Ruby writes that
lawyers use “timely” in the adverbial sense. “The complaint was timely filed with the court but untimely served on the defendant.” So there is perhaps a precedent for a formation like “rotely.”
I have it on good authority that students in law school use tort for gossiping purposes: “She and her boyfriend torted all weekend long.” So, if you’re willing to be like that. . . .
As for myself, I like rotely. It’s the sort of word which makes iambic pentameter even more fun.
Our lives are far too short for wasted breath,
For prayers to Ptah or jealous Seth,
So cheerly loose the rules we rotely learned,
And learn each day, and hold at bay our death.