Ah the last time we saw you/you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
It was an itsy-bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini
That she wore for the first time today
Two songs from my childhood, both immensely memorable. One a novelty song that charted its way to the top, the other a haunting, lilting melody. Guess which one I had to learn to dance to at the age of 14? [I’ll have you know that dancing to Leonard Cohen is no laughing matter!].
So what are these songs doing in “a blog about information”?
Let me try and explain. Famous blue raincoat. [Incidentally, it was a Burberry]. Not blue famous raincoat. Itsy-bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, not polka dot yellow itsy-bitsy teeny weeny bikini.
Because the other forms just don’t sound right, don’t feel right, there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on why, but they’re not right.
Because adjectives have an order, a hierarchy; an order that is tacitly understood, learnt and practised by native English speakers; an order that has to be explained explicitly to non-native speakers of the language.
An order that goes something like this:
Quantity. Opinion. Size. Age. Shape. Colour. Origin. Material. Purpose.
Visit this site to see how non-natives get to learn the order and hierarchy. You may also find it of interest to read these posts on the subject. Other languages appear to be less hierarchical when it comes to adjective placement and order. [If you’re interested, you can even take a look at Dalcurian adjectives :-)]
I had three reasons to write this post:
One, having known about this for some time, and having been reminded of it regularly more recently, I wanted to share it with you, in case you were as interested in it as I was. English is a wonderful, living, just-slightly-insane language.
Two, I think it’s a great example of tacit knowledge, something we need to understand better as we move forward with the web. We know it, but don’t know we know it. We use it, without knowing we’re using it.
Three, I think it’s a great example of how the web works, allowing me to write a post like this, linking to stuff that lets you dig into it if you choose to.
Incidentally, when people come and argue with me about apps and HTML5, I’ve tended to use just one word in reply.