Things we know but don’t know we know

I came across this ages ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Apart from the actually remembering the order of the words bit.

Which is kind of important. But I guess I could work it out because, after all, it’s something we know but don’t know we know until we do it.

It’s from this passage from The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth about how to order adjectives:

Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.

Look! I’ve written it out.

Oh, alright, I’ve copied and pasted it. I’m going to write it out now:

  1. Opinion
  2. Size
  3. Age
  4. Shape
  5. Colour
  6. Origin
  7. Material
  8. Purpose
  9. Noun

Or OSASCOMPN for short.

 

Is this the last alphabet that English will ever have?

I wasn’t great at English at high school. I just didn’t connect with it, and none of my teachers really set my heart on fire with passion for this odd, largely-stolen language of ours.

That was until I went to university in 1989 and had to learn another language: biblical Hebrew. In order to learn that I needed to brush up on my understanding of language, grammar and syntax.

Thanks to Dr Jim Martin, Dr Robin Salters and Mr Peter Coxon for the first time in my life I began to feel excited about language. I studied Hebrew (3 years) and Greek (1 year) and after I’d graduated I had a rather failed attempt at trying to learn Scottish Gaelic and I began to read more about English, its grammar and history.

I rather enjoyed this three minute video by Tom Scott about the English alphabet. I have often wished that we still had a few of these characters in our alphabet, not least because then my name might have been spelled Garð.