Opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose Noun

A short interlude before I conclude my four thoughts / forethoughts on content design, and fittingly, it comes from Jason Kottke. I’d never heard of this before reading his post ‘The adjective word order we all follow without realizing it’, and now I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. 

From Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence, a reminder of the rules of adjective order that fluent English speakers follow without quite knowing why.

…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. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.

Try it for yourself, if like me it doesn’t quite make sense on first read. Switch the order of words in that sentence and see how clumsy it gets. 

A rectangular little lovely old silver green French whittling knife?
An old little lovely silver rectangular French green whittling knife?
An silver French rectangular lovely old little green whittling knife?

It reminds me of my love for The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. Two books I read about 17 years ago, that massively shaped the way that I think about the ways we think.