The other day I was debating whether to remove a comma from between two adjectives in this phrase…
its former, legendary zoo director, Jack Hanna
…when I remembered there’s a weird rule for adjectives, not only whether you need commas, but the order in which they should be used, if you need a few of them to describe something. I took out the comma between “former” and “legendary,” although I’ve since learned I should have left it in:
You should use a comma between two adjectives when they are coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives that describe the same noun equally.
With coordinate adjectives you can put “and” between them and the meaning is the same. Similarly, you can swap their order.
The example given is the shiny silver pole. The source argues for a comma here, although I don’t think they’re strictly coordinate. To my ear, “shiny” describes the sort of silver, not necessarily the pole itself. Anyway, screw online grammar guides, because when it comes to adjectives, my favorite is the rule about order of adjectives:
Observation (articles like this or that, plus numbers)
Size and Shape
I found that list on a website for non-native English speakers, and you really have to appreciate how hard it is to learn English when you look at it. Natives would never say the “gray old mare,” because we know, even without learning the song in grade school, that it’s the old gray mare. Nor would we say “old little lady” – she’s a little old lady. We also don’t generally put commas between them, although I’ve probably edited a dozen writers who turn in copy about a little, old lady.
You can amuse yourself stringing adjectives together in the correct order, trying to make the phrase longer: nine fat yellow kittens or Bob’s old blue cotton shirt, etc., although you can get a little dizzy with the length, wondering if you really need to cram them all in there in one phrase.
But these are the things writers consider. Benjamin Dreyer, the copy editor who gave the world a Strunk & White for the modern age, noted today was the 75th anniversary of the publication of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and musing on how he might have edited its first sentence:
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. pic.twitter.com/S3TIrhT3kp
— Benjamin Dreyer (@BCDreyer) June 27, 2023
(It’s a thread. Click replies for his considerations.) I remember reading “The Lottery” in, what, seventh grade, maybe? Eighth? Surely no later than that. I wonder whether it’s still taught today, or whether it’s been replaced by something more Relevant. I know it scared the shit out of me, the same way Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” did the same, just in the first paragraph:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met nearly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Stephen King published a book on his favorite horror fiction, and devotes a fair amount of time to ol’ Shirley, who really knew how to set a mood from the jump. I think, in this one, the phrases “not sane,” “sensibly shut” and “walked alone” are little chills down the spine, and I wonder how many times she wrote and rewrote that passage to get it perfect. (Which it is.)
OK, then, on to the bloggage:
Hey, Buckeyes: A short but essential playlist of songs about Ohio.
You may have heard about the story about the penis-enlargement industry published yesterday, and upon clicking The New Yorker link, may have been shut out by the paywall. Never fear! ProPublica co-published the story, and it’s free and totally worth the time it’ll take to read it. It’s both funny and squirm-inducing and empathetic and all the other good things a story like this should be. I nearly shrieked at this passage:
When a defense-and- intelligence contractor’s girlfriend, a registered nurse, aspirated his seroma with a sterile needle, a cup of amber fluid oozed out. The one time they tried to have sex, she told me, the corners of his implant felt like “someone sticking a butter knife inside you.”
Ee-yikes. And with that, sayonara until later in the week. Or maybe next week. Depends on what happens.