word order (was Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Mar 30 18:06:29 EST 2005


Bettina answered Colin,

>I wonder about the word-order thing, esp. the sublte variants in English.
>Probably they've been lost on me so far...?

I don't know how subtle Colin/Dorian was meaning, but "I just want a
verdict" and "I want a just verdict" and "I want just a verdict" mean quite
different things.  And "I only care for money" and "I care only for money"
and "I care for only money" are three quite distinct sorts of interest in
dosh, but I'd hate to try to explain *why*, or wherein precisely the
difference lies.

Come to think of it, "I don't know which" and "which I don't know" mean
different things, and have to go into different contexts in order for them
to make sense properly.

"Now tidy your room" is one of a chain of instructions ("Hang your coat up.
Put your shoes on the rack.  Pick up those books.  Now tidy your room", as
it might be; "Tidy your room now" is an imperative command, in isolation
and generally exasperation.  Where the word "now" is put in the sentence
makes a lot of difference.

Even the order of adjectives applied to a word may be important.  ("The
order even of adjectives"?  "The even order of adjectives"?  "The order of
even adjectives"? -- which is not unakin to the Loyal Order of Moose, who
are of course not the same as the Order of Loyal Moose.)  Anyhow and before
I get more distracted, sometimes the order is set and one can't use them
the other way round without it sounding wrong: a tall dark stranger and a
little old lady are fixed, as is a dark and stormy night.  Sometimes it
isn't: one could have a round little man or a little round man, and the one
would be a small person who happened to be fat and the other a corpulent
individual of diminutive stature: the nearer adjective to the noun is taken
as being more inherent or something.  He's little, oh and by the way round;
he's round, oh and by the way little.  As opposed to the other little man
we were discussing a moment ago, or the other round man.

I [now] think I shall [now] make my escape [now] before the red-bearded
dwarfs enter the courtroom!

(Put the [now] wherever you want in that sentence; I couldn't make up my
mind which meaning I preferred.)

Minnow


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