02 December 2013

OSASCOMP: Answer to a long-standing question

What's notable about 'a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife'? is a review of The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books, pp.208, £12.99, ISBN: 9781848316218). The article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator dated 30 November 2013.

The book sounds very promising indeed.

Quote:
Forsyth’s chief and admirable ambition is to demolish ‘the bleak and imbecile idea that the aim of writing is to express yourself clearly in plain, simple English using as few words as possible’.
Reviewer Christopher Howse also writes:
The shiniest piece of information I picked up is that, in English, adjectives go 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.
This knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers; to see it made explicit is an enjoyable revelation, like learning to carry a tray on the flat of your hand.
The formula "opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose, then nounis the long-sought answer to a difficult question. And, while agree with Howse when he says that "this knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers", all writers occasionally -- and translators frequently -- hesitate and wonder what it the right order for a string of qualifiers.

It is, in fact, amazing how difficult this information is to track down. I've tried many times and never come up with more than partial answers. The question is important for writers and even more so for translations precisley because, as Forsyth says, "if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac".

As an acronym, that makes: OSASCOMP, or perhaps OSAS_COMP.
Would anyone like to suggest a mnemonic?

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