Logical Gal and the audacity of an adjective

1 Jul

Adjectives

Adjectives were boring until Saturday.

That’s when I learned about the power they employ.  I’m sure you can recite along with me the same answer…

  • to this question:   What is the function of an adjective?
  • and the answer is:  An adjective modifies a noun

So what’s the big deal? It’s that verb ‘to modify’ – so innocuous!

The speaker at the weekend conference who got me to consider adjectives was a former English professor (does anyone STOP teaching English?).  In her talk on Saturday she explained that the function of an adjective was to CHANGE a noun.

That startled me!  Switching from the familiar verb ‘modify’ to the more powerful synonym  ‘change’  set off a small explosion of  implications that coursed through my mind.

Change - Angel of death

Not all adjectives drastically alter a noun.  For example, take the phrase  ‘stay-at-home dad‘.    The man is still a ‘dad’, whether he is the primary care giver for his children or not.  Adding the adjectival ‘changer’ doesn’t detract or add from the ‘pure’ definition of the concept ‘dad’.  But what about that old term women (and men!) often used 40 years ago when they felt ashamed of being a stay-at-home mom.  Someone came up with the phrase ‘domestic engineer’ to be used by a mom/wife desiring to lend gravitas to what she did every day.  Did anyone REALLY think she was an engineer?  Only in the euphemistic sense.  I am guessing that few Engineering Schools or departments teach courses on running a household.

Domestic Engineer

 

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Why is this important, the playing around with adjectives?

Because how we define institutions and groups figures prominently in the news these days.  Marriage, faith and politics are not neutral topics of little import.  The rhetoric is intense and emotions are high.  Words matter, especially adjectives.

Question: What striking example can you provide of an adjective changing the original or ontological sense of a noun? 

 

Scrabble - every word counts

 

 

2 Responses to “Logical Gal and the audacity of an adjective”

  1. Trish July 2, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    How about “striking” example? I picture a hammer, or a mallet on a percussion instrument, or fingers on a keyboard – tapping or thumping the example into my brain.

    • Maria July 2, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      That’s a great wordpicture, isn’t it! And adding ‘striking’ as an adjective doesn’t change the concept of example, it just amplifies it. So I would call that a proper sort of adjective.

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