Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Great Book

Ray Drainville

I’ve just finished Mark Forsyth’s great book The Elements of Eloquence, a run-down of rhetorical tricks that have been taught, and used, for millennia. Under “Hyperbaton”, he writes about the 7-year-old JRR Tolkien, who wrote a story about a “great green dragon”. His mother explained that this couldn’t be, and he was so disheartened that the didn’t write another story for years (for which we are all thankful).

Why is it impossible? “Great” cannot be before “green”, it must come after. In fact, I had to read the example three times before my brain stopped putting the words in their “correct” order.

The reason for [the] mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be 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.

The mind crackles. I love discovering new things. This book is highly recommended.