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Adjective order and speculative writing

I found this article about adjective order in English very interesting. It’s a topic that we mostly grasp intuitively–no teacher ever told me that saying “iron big skillet” was wrong because material is the type of adjective that belongs closest to the word and size goes further out, so we would say “big iron skillet.” But we would. I would never say or write “iron big skillet” unless I had realized after I’d already started to say “iron skillet” that there were two of them in there–and even then mostly I’d say “iron skillet–the big one” rather than “iron big skillet.”

(I wonder whether this gets taught in English as a Second Language classes or whether we just leave ESL learners to flounder and tell them that they sound “funny” and “foreign” and “wrong” because most of their teachers can’t articulate why they do, they just do.)

But the thing that occurred to me reading the article was that I use this to signal things like fictional species name when I’m writing speculative fiction. The example they used of “wondrous blue-green Hawaiian gecko” vs. “Hawaiian blue-green wondrous gecko”: in the latter case, I would incline towards “wondrous gecko” being the species name, and if I saw it later in the text as “Caroline advanced toward the wondrous gecko enclosure with the stun gun at ready,” I would take that as further data, not that the enclosure was wondrous, but that the species was called “wondrous gecko.” Because otherwise it’s an awkwardness I would assume that a) someone fluent enough to write in English would catch and b) someone fluent enough to edit in English would catch so that c) it would be there for a reason.

I don’t know if people who primarily read memetic fiction have that reading protocol, or if I’m giving other speculative writers (or speculative readers!) too much credit, but it was a tool in my toolkit I was not conscious of using until there was the adjective order laid out right there, so look: adjective order, it is a thing! If you mess with it, you can sometimes signal things like species name in a speculative context. This has been your afternoon’s SF science nerding with Mris.

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