Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Short Stack of Adjectives

Snow this morning, but it didn’t have much stick-to-it-ness, and had almost all melted by afternoon. That, surely, is a harbinger of a hint of a trace of a thing known as spring, but not widely remembered around these parts.

I wrote an article about Rubio’s the other day. Previously, I’d never heard of it, because I don’t go to the western states enough to have spotted one. But that’s no handicap when it comes to whipping up a light little omelet of an article -- or in this case, a huevos rancheros of an article. The chain describes itself as being part of the “affordable fast casual fresh Mexican grill” restaurant segment, which couldn’t be as big a segment as all that.

The way they pile on adjectives like you might pile on ingredients at a taco bar reminds me, oddly, of a moment in the book A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is set in the centuries following a 20th-century nuclear war. In one scene, a character is puzzling out an English-language inscription on some device the ancients (us, that is) left behind, and comments (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s a hell of a language that piles on adjectives without any clear patterns about what goes where.

But there are patterns for adjective placement in English. They’re so idiomatically complicated that they’re hard to articulate, but they exist. And you can have some fun with adjectives, if you feel like it. My old friend Tom Jones and I put the following together years ago, over doughnuts:

An Angolan communist guerrilla would be a black red.

But he’s young, and recently recruited, so he’s a green black red.

He’s also afraid. This would make him a yellow green black red.

But he wants to be brave, and is sad because he isn’t – so that makes him a blue yellow green black red.



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