March 05, 2004

Fine writing at 40% adjective rate

Claudia Roth Pierpoint has a fascinating article (under the generic header "Annals of Culture") in The New Yorker (March 4th, 2004) about the great anti-racist anthropologist and linguist Franz Boas. At one point (p. 63) she sums up in a single ten-word phrase what Stephen Jay Gould managed to do to advance Boas's legacy while he was Honorary Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History: he showed us "that punctilious Darwinian science was fully compatible with Boasian ethics." Exactly so.

The ratio of adjectives to total word tokens in that effective snippet of prose, by the way, is an unusually high 40 percent. One more indication that the people who decry adjectives as indicative of bad writing are totally nuts.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 5, 2004 03:58 PM