October 4, 2005

Adjectives are Noble Things

Being a Collection of Various Musings on the Worthy Subject of My Favorite Part of Speech.

I'm sure it would be very boring indeed, not to mention frustrating, to live in a world with no adjectives. Can you imagine? A world of bland factual statements, where every sentence sounded just alike, because none of the nuances and beauties of language which are provided by adjectives would be there. How horrifying. Thank the Lord for expressive speech.
A single well-placed adjective can turn a matter-of-fact statement into a marvel of the English language, as Jane Austen's tight yet descriptive prose proves. She never uses a word too much or too little, and the adjectives are few and far between, yet when she uses them she is sure to pick the right ones. Do you remember the description of Mrs. Musgrove as being 'full of fat sighings?' That sentence can not be improved upon, and the worth of it is all in the deceptively simple adjective 'fat.' Adjectives are such powerful things that an excessive use of them, or a reliance on the 'fancy' ones, is almost as 'unsafe' as Captain Benwicks's love of poetry. :-)

As lovely as adjectives are when well-used, they are misused frequently and ruinously by all sorts of writers. I am convinced that most errors of style in writing are the result of the conscious and unnatural use of adjectives which the writer supposes to be 'fine.' He is writing along when all of a sudden he realizes that he is supposed to be Writing Literature. He grows self-conscious and begins to force Artsy, Startling, and Original Metaphors upon the poor unsuspecting piece of paper. He is convinced that the odd straining sound that results is the sign of Genuine, Fresh Writing, with lots of Raw Force and Energy and all such as that.
In reality, prose written like this sounds as if the very paper was indignant with the perpetrator of the crime, the author. And it is a crime-- he has committed the crime of Great Art. Art is only great by coincidence, by a happy combination of skill, thought, and chance; no amount of force can make it so if it is not naturally. Art is not a cow to be driven through a gate; it is a genuinely humble outpouring of the beauty inside, and no artist consciously trying to make his words great will ever actually accomplish it.
Adjectives are the most neglected part of speech in our world. People love nouns. They love verbs. They even love turning nouns into verbs (hence a whole new breed of horrid words such as enthuse). But adjectives are sadly neglected. Your average person, trying to find a word to describe how something is or what he is feeling, relapses into a nonsensical string of 'awesome,' 'cool' or in a dire case of severe emotion, 'whatever.' (You know, as in, "Wow, church today was like so awesome and we were all like crying and it was like, really...wow. Whatever.") Or when they sit down to write something, they are so unused to adjectives as an integral and necessary part of speech that they use them pompously and uncomfortably (as I discussed above). I have actually seen a writing curriculum that advocated having children write a strictly factual paragraph, and then 'dress it up' with adjectives! What better way to teach that expressing your feelings is optional than to treat adjectives as an afterthought? What better way to discourage praising the Lord and his creation? There are dismal implications in ignoring adjectives. Our God is an expressive God, and our religion one of sharing ourselves with Him and others through expression. Adjectives are vital! Use them! Love them! They deserve it!


Nomos said...

A beautiful thought, expressed beautifully.

rachel tsunami said...

>I have actually seen a writing curriculum that advocated having children write a strictly factual paragraph, and then 'dress it up' with adjectives!<

Do you recall which one that was? Was it Institute for Excellence in Writing? Curious, and have reasons for asking.

Aunt Rachel

Lynn Bruce said...

I asked FSLL, and she does not recall the titles, just remembers leafing through such curricular offenders while at a book fair with me. IIRC, IEW relies more on imitiation than embellishment, and I do not believe it was the culprit. I have my suspicions as to what curriculum she is remembering, however. Later, via email, dearest.

ithchick said...

Splendiferocious! I totally, unanimously absobalalutely agree!

Life is better in the South said...