The Weird Grammar Rule We All Obey Without Knowing It

Why you can’t let the beautiful, stupid, big cat in no matter how much she meows at you

Jack Shepherd
Cellar Door

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There’s a reason you can’t get a show, American, furry, stripey, round, old, big, stupid cat, and it’s not just because she’ll probably pee in your shoes. The reason (and I should emphasize that it’s not a rule, but more like a language habit) has something to do with what’s called Order Force, which sounds like a directive General Hux might give on Starkiller Base and is only slightly less cool to think about: When we stack adjectives together in English, we tend to do it unconsciously in something like the order that matches number, opinion, size, physical quality, shape, age, color, origin, material, type, purpose. So your five stupid, big, round, old, stripey, furry, American show cats will feel much more at home even if some of them destroy the furniture.

There appears to be some slight disagreement about the specifics of this order, as the above list (which comes from the Cambridge Dictionary) isn’t precisely the same as the list by language-writer Mark Forsyth that occasionally goes viral, but if you test it yourself, you’ll realize that there’s something almost indefinably wrong with concepts like Clifford, the Red, Big Dog; My Greek, Fat, Big Wedding; Angry 12 Men; Riding

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Jack Shepherd
Cellar Door

I have a newsletter about crossword puzzles and a podcast about rom-coms. Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail