Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Arranging words

Do you remember that Eric Morecambe quote: “I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”?

When I was sitting at Gate A4 at Heathrow Terminal 5 last week, I saw a Pret a Manger notice which said

“Next month we are opening a big, new kitchen and a new, little shop,”

and it stuck in my head.

Why?  Because the phrasing of the sentence sounded exactly right, but I couldn’t work out why it was correct to have big as the first adjective in the first adjectival phrase, and little as the second adjective in the second adjectival phrase. Both adjectives are to do with size, so why did they not occupy the same position in their respective phrases?

Are there some grammatical rules that have passed me by? Or is it a hidden mystery and all to do with how things sound, and therefore something that cannot be taught? Someone somewhere knows the answer to this.

 And on a loosely connected point, while I was in San Francisco I was watching (and loving) the award-winning 1980s children’s TV series Press Gang.

At the end of one very moving episode, there is a bit of dialogue that I have remembered since I heard it the first time, more than than twenty years ago. Spike is very upset and Lynda asks him what’s wrong, and he says, “Nothing, maybe. Everything, probably.” Why have I remembered it? Because of the way the words are arranged. A lesser screenwriter than Steven Moffat would have written “Maybe nothing. Probably everything,” and an even lesser writer would not have chosen just four words to express the sentiment. Yes, Press Gang is “only” a children’s TV series, and not a great work of literature, but of it’s kind, it is pure class.

p.s. Press Gang was Steven Moffat’s first TV work. His latest writing includes Doctor Who, Jekyll and the co-writing of The Adventures of Tintin with Steven Spielberg.


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