Like a Maniac

I read recently that there is a fixed order for adjectives in English, although almost no native speakers could specify that order. Combining and reconciling a few online lists gives me this: quantity, opinion, size, physical quality, age, shape, colour, origin, material, type, purpose, and then (whew) a noun. To extend an example given by one expert . . .

You can have three lovely, little, dented, old, rectangular, green, French, silver, two-bladed whittling knives.  But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.

This already sounds crazy to me: Not this delightful sentence, oh no, but the idea that I follow rules that I don’t even know exist. A likely story.

And with that segue, I’d like to share my latest writing challenge: the short short story.

The yellow ugly house on the corner irregular lot has been there as long as I remember. Likewise, its old, grumpy, lumpy resident.

It’s a calm lovely day, so I head out for a fitness short walk. As I near the wooden ramshackle structure, I see that its Scottish dour owner is outside, working in his front wraparound yard.

Out of nowhere, a southerly capricious gust lifts my French blue new beret off my head. Tossed up and over the asphalt black dirty road, it lands without so much as a “By your leave” in the green low ugly hedge that marks one boundary of my neighbour’s English incongruous formal garden.

Appalled, I stand stupidly on the concrete uneven sidewalk. Without even a glance of acknowledgement, the old crabby gardener silently stoops to disentangle this airborne rude interloper from the dark-green clipped thicket.

As he regains the vertical, evidently with some effort, he pauses ever so slightly, turning over my wool imported expensive headgear in his gnarled capable hands. Then, impassive, he flips my beret back across the paved dark ribbon that separates us.

Reflexively, I turn slightly, stretch out my right dominant arm, and catch this fabric unexpected floating Frisbee. With my peripheral keen vision, I think I glimpse an even more unexpected sight: a secret small smile floating across an unaccustomed somewhat face.

You see? Rules, schmules!


This entry was posted in Language and Communication, Laughing Frequently and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Like a Maniac

  1. Ted Spencer says:

    Life is full of things that, if got right, elicit no response. It’s even fuller of things that are rendered wrong by the stern look with which they are rewarded. Much of a century ago, Ma said “Don’t be too late”. Says I “How late is too late?”. Says Ma “You’ll know when you get here.”. Hence one of many of life’s fundamental unfairnesses: the yellow ugly house is not the same house as the ugly yellow house. Deal with it.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – LOL. Good for your mother. A little uncertainty is the beginning of thinking. As for the apparent arbitrariness of language, you’re right, we might as well enjoy it.

  2. Judith Umbach says:

    Ahhh, but when you are not paying attention, you will speak according to the rules. The subconscious is a tyrannical beast. I went through this cycle a few years ago and have succumbed to the unimportant dictates of the beast.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – For sure. It was a concerted effort to put (so many) adjectives out of order. It’s funny how odd it sounds.

Comments are closed.