The Odd Grammar Rule Most English Speakers Know But Are Rarely Taught

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See Also: 4 More Unofficial Rules Native English Speakers Don't Realize They Know

The English language is full of all sorts of quirks that can be infuriating to non-native speakers. (Imagine learning as an adult that cough, enough, and though all make different sounds.) To those of us who speak English as our first tongue, these nonsensical grammar conventions come as second nature. Some rules are so innate that they rarely get taught in school.

Take this example recently spotted by Quartz:

This passage tweeted by BBC editor Matthew Anderson comes from the book The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase. It outlines the rules of adjective order when preceding a noun. According to the text, the order goes "opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun" and any change made to that organization will make you "sound like a maniac." For instance, "big black dog" is a perfectly acceptable phrase, but saying "black big dog" just sounds awkward.

At least that’s the case for native English speakers—people learning English as a second language are tasked with committing that seemingly arbitrary sequence to memory. If they don’t, they risk getting confused stares when asking for "the green lovely rectangular French old silver whittling little knife."

See Also: 4 More Unofficial Rules Native English Speakers Don't Realize They Know

[h/t Quartz]

How and Why Did Silent Letters Emerge in English?

iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr
iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr

Kory Stamper:

The easy answer is “"because English can’t leave well enough alone."

When we first started speaking English around 600 AD, it was totally phonetic: every letter had a sound, and we sounded every letter in a word. But English—and England itself—were influenced quite a bit by the French, who conquered the island in 1066 and held it for a long time. And then later by Dutch and Flemish printers, who were basically the main publishers in England for a solid two centuries, and then by further trading contact with just about every continent on the planet. And while we’re shaking hands and stealing language from every single people-group we meet, different parts of the language started changing at uneven rates.

By the 1400s, English started to lose its phonetic-ness: the way we articulated vowels in words like “loud” changed slowly but dramatically, and that had an effect on the rest of the word. (This is called “The Great Vowel Shift,” and it took place over a few hundred years.) Somewhere in the middle of the GVS, though, English spelling became fixed primarily because of the printing press and the easy distribution/availability of printed materials. In short: we have silent letters because the spelling of words stopped changing to match their pronunciations.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Daniel Radcliffe Played Fact-Checker at The New Yorker to Prepare for New Role

Remy Steiner/Getty Images for Tommy Hilfiger
Remy Steiner/Getty Images for Tommy Hilfiger

Method acting has taken performers to some strange places, including behind the wheel of a cab and psychiatric wards. As research for his role in the new Broadway play The Lifespan of a Fact, Daniel Radcliffe volunteered his time at the fact-checking department of The New Yorker—and he said the work he did there was more nerve-wracking than going on stage.

The play, which opened in New York in September, is based on a real-life magazine fact-checking ordeal that took place in 2005. As an intern at the literary magazine The Believer, Jim Fingal was asked to fact-check an essay by writer John D’Agata about a young man's suicide in Las Vegas. D’Agata tended to prioritize style over accuracy—tweaking the figure of 31 strip clubs in Las Vegas to 34 because he liked the "rhythm" better, for example—and this led to conflict between writer and fact-checker. Their back-and-forth was eventually published as a book in 2012.

The Harry Potter star, who plays Fingal in the show, recently got to experience what real fact-checkers go through on a day-to-day basis. As The New Yorker's guest fact-checker, Radcliffe wasn't tasked with reviewing a feature-length essay on a heavy subject—rather, he was asked to look at the facts in a review of a Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn.

After he called the restaurant's chef to confirm the ingredients in the dip and ask if the spot did indeed have a "Venice Beach aesthetic," the article was officially fact-checked. As for how the gig compared to his job as an actor, he told The New Yorker, “Nothing I do today will be harder than that.”

[h/t The New Yorker]

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