Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Standard order for adjectives

Interesting tidbit on a rule of English that I had never noticed...


Wendalyn Nichols, editor of Copy Editor, responded, "There is indeed a standard order for adjectives, and you'll find it described in dictionaries and textbooks for learners of English as a second language."

Ms. Nichols reproduced a version of a chart showing a hierarchy of modifiers: determiner, quality, size, age, color, origin, material. She gives some examples: a colorful new silk scarf; that silver Japanese car. I've just been looking over a couple of other such charts, and I find that the hierarchy they list goes like this:

Opinion :: size :: age :: shape :: color :: origin :: material :: purpose.

Not all noun phrases have adjectives from each of these columns. But this is the order they should be in. Thus "little old lady" or "angry young man" are set phrases in the language that illustrate the idiomatic order. "Little" (size) comes before "old" (age). And "angry" is an example of what the charts call an opinion adjective – one of the modifiers that seem less essential than those referring to age or origin, for instance.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spokane to detonate squirrels tearing up parks

"Caddy Shack" in Spokane...


The Finch Arboretum is being overrun by ground squirrels, and Spokane Parks and Recreation is bringing in some special artillery.

The agency is using a special machine called the Rodenator Pro to detonate some of the estimated 100 to 150 squirrels tearing up the grounds.

The Rodenator Pro pumps propane and oxygen into the tunnels of squirrels, then sends an electric spark that causes an explosion. The shock waves kill the squirrels and collapse their tunnels - but in a humane way, the agency said.

I hope they invite Bill Murray to push the plunger.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Paglia responds to my complaint about "enormity"

It's an honor to have my letter printed, even if Camille Paglia disagrees with my point on the proper usage of "enormity".  Apparently, many Salon readers are on my side.


You wrote: "Two weeks after my return, I am still trying to process the enormity of my experience in Salvador, which was staggering on every level."

I understand that usage is subject to change, but I feel a duty to my old English teacher, Fr. McFadden, SJ, to use "enormity" with the traditional sense of "great wickedness or evil." I hope that you will agree that the standard definition of "enormity" is worth preserving. The president has been misusing that word for a while, and I fear that without the help of respected writers, it may soon be lost.

Steve Miner

Well, I certainly got an earful from Salon readers about this one! I appreciate the grammar protests from everyone who wrote in. But I honestly have never accepted that sharp distinction in English. In French, one can use enormitĂ© in either sense, and it seems to me a very useful duality. I was certainly signaling that the carnival in Salvador had both a physical and a spiritual dimension; neither "immensity" nor "enormousness" (which other readers suggested) would have been quite right.

From the swaying top of Daniela Mercury's cruising trio elétrico, I was reminded of many things -- Wordsworth's sonnet about sleeping London at dawn as a "mighty heart" and Baudelaire's spooky poem about beauty as a goddess-like stone sphinx with bruising breasts. With apologies to irate English teachers everywhere, "enormity" with a French twist really nails it!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday at the Masters

Lisa's friend graciously gave us tickets for Wednesday practice round at the Masters. I was wearing my TW hat and my Stanford Alumni shirt. We got there early and were lucky enough to follow Tiger for a few holes. As Tiger walked by I shouted "Go Stanford" and he replied "All Right". We didn't have to time to chat, but it was nice to get a response.

This was Lisa's first time at Augusta National so we spend most of the morning walking around and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

We saw a number of famous players, but perhaps the highlight was Gary Player (age 73), playing in his record 52nd Masters. He had previously announced that this would be his last time as a competitor. He had a fun time with the crowd. He's a great ambassador for the game.

We didn't get to see much of the Par 3 Contest because the crowd was so large. We had to get home to take care of the dogs anyway. I watched the end on TV and got to see Gary Player make his last shot on number Nine. It would have been a hole-in-one except he had dropped one in the water on his first tee shot, so it was actually a par, the hard way.