Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

antarctic, apathetic, apologetic, archaic, aromatic, athletic, atomic, authentic, barbaric (Milton), cathartic, despotic, ethic, gastric, graphic, telegraphic, theoretic.

These are roughly distinguishable from those in -ic after the French -ique, by being entirely of Greek material. That class is more mixed. There is perhaps no form that more distinctly represents the influx of Greek, and its adoption into scientific terminology. A large part of these adjectives are shared by us with all the great languages of western Europe.

authentic.
• Methinks I see him-how his eye-balls rolled,
Beneath his ample brow, in darkness paired, -
But each instinct with spirit; and the frame
Of the whole countenance alive with thought,
Fancy, and understanding; while the voice
Discoursed of natural or moral truth
With eloquence, and such authentic power,
That, in his presence, humbler knowledge stood
Abashed, and tender pity overawed.'

William Wordsworth, The Excursion, Bk. VII.

In -astic, -istic, -ustic, from the Greek - OTLKÝ.

Examples :- antagonistic, caustic, characteristic, drastic, patristic, plastic, pleonastic.

Monast-ic belongs to the forms in-ic.

characteristic (substantively). • The characteristic of that movement is that it seeks to attain its object by arguments bordering on menace.'

Having said so much on adjectival forms, let us now endeavour to determine something of the natural quality of the adjective, and the practical effect of that natural quality upon our habitual conversation. An adjective is plainly of the nature of a predicate, as plainly as a substantive is of the nature of a subject. Now, to select a predicate for

А а

a subject is an act of judgment. It is manifest that judgment is more exercised in the utterance of adjectives than in that of substantives. I say horse from mere memory of my mother-tongue, and we hardly dignify it as an act of judgment if a man uses that word in the right place, and shows that he knows a horse when he sees it. But to say good horse, bad horse, sound horse, young horse, &c., is a matter of judgment. A child knows when he sees a garden, and we do not call it an act of judgment (except in technical logic) to exclaim There's a garden. But to use garden adjectively, as when a person comes across a flower, and says it is a garden flower, this is an act of judgment which it takes a botanist to exercise safely. This being so, a speaker runs a greater chance of making a mistake, or of coming into collision with the judgments of others, in the use of adjectives. Partly from this cause, and partly also, perhaps, from the rarity of good and confident judgment, and partly it may also be from the modesty which social intercourse requires, we perceive this effect, that there is a shyness about the utterance of adjectives. Of original adjectives, I mean, such as can at all carry the air of being the speaker's own. And hence it has come about, that there is in each period or generation, one or more chartered social adjectives which may be used freely and safely. Such adjectives enjoy a sort of empire for the time in which they are current. Their meaning is more or less vague, and it is this quality which suits them for their office. But while it would be hard to define what such an adjective meant, it is nevertheless perfectly well understood. Obvious examples of this sort of privileged adjective are the merry of the ballads, and the fair and pretty of the Elizabethan period. In Mrs. Cowden Clarke's Concordance to Shakspeare, there are about seven hundred examples of fair, without counting its derivatives

and compounds. Perhaps this perpetual recurrence of the word made a butt at it all the more amusing :

King. All haile sweet Madame, and faire time of day.
Qu. Faire in all Haile is fowle, as I conceiue.
King. Construe my speeches better, if you may.'

Loues Labour 's lost, v. 2. 340. Such was in the last century the adjective fine, and in a minor degree the adjective elegant. Of the latter we have already had some illustrations. Its companion is worthy of the like honour :

fine. * The truly philosophical language of my worthy and learned friend Mr. Harris, the author of Hermes, a work that will be read and admired as long as there is any taste for philosophy and fine writing in Britain.'—Lord Monboddo, Origin and Progress of Language, init.

But none of these ever reached a greater, if so great, a vogue as the chartered adjective of our own and our fathers' generation, namely, the adjective nice.

Should an essayist endeavour by description to convey the signification of this word in those peculiar social uses so familiar to all, he would find that he had undertaken a difficult task. It is applicable to the possession of any quality or qualities which enjoy the approbation of society under its present code.

The word dates from the great French period, and at first meant 'foolish, absurd, ridiculous'; then in course of time it came to signify 'whimsical, fantastic, wanton, adroit’; and thence it slid into the meaning of ' subtle, delicate, sensitive,' which landed it on the threshold of its modern social application. Of this we have already a foretaste in Milton ,

• A nice and subtle happiness I see
Thou to thyself proposest in the choice

Of thy associates.' Paradise Lost, viii. 399.
A more special use is the following, and not the vague

social use, yet bordering closely upon it. This sense, in which it is nearly equivalent to 'fastidious,' has now but little currency, being crowded out by the social use.

• But never was a Fight manag'd so hardily, and in such a surprizing Manner, as that which follow'd between Friday and the Bear, which gave us all (though at first we were surpriz'd and afraid for him) the greatest Diversion imaginable : As the Bear is a heavy, clumsy Creature, and does not gallop as the Wolf does, who is swift, and light; so he has two particular Qualities, which generally are the Rule of his Actions; First, as to Men, who are not his proper Prey; I say, not his proper Prey; because tho' I cannot say what excessive Hunger might do, which was now their Case, the Ground being all cover'd with Snow; but as to Men he does not usually attempt them, unless they first attack him; On the contrary, if you meet him in the Woods, if you don't meddle with him, he won't meddle with you; but then you must take Care to be very civil to him, and give him the Road; for he is a very nice Gentleman, he won't go a Step out of his Way for a Prince,' &c.Robinson Crusoe. Edited after the Original Editions by J. W. Clark, M.A. p. 298.

As far back as 1823, a young lady objected to Sydney Smith: Oh, don't call me nice, Mr. Sydney; people only say that when they can say nothing else.' This expostulation drew forth his Definition of a Nice Person, which may be seen in the Memoir of his Life, and which will serve to complete the case of this important little office-bearing adjective.

Morphology of the Adjective. Let us close this section with some observations on the morphology of the adjective, or in other words, on the divers ways it has of dressing itself up to act its part on the stage of language. By 'adjective' here is meant the pure mental conception, as opposed to the form. There are three ways in which the adjectival idea clothes itself and finds expression, which it may be convenient to call the three adjections.

1. The first, which may be called the Flat, is by collocation. Thus, brick and stone are substantives; but mere position before another substantive turns them into adjectives, as,

brick wall, stone wall; and the latter, when regarded as a compound substantive, stone-wall, may again by collocation make a new adjective, as 'Stone-wall Jackson.' And a compound noun of the other sort, that is to say, one with its adjection after it, as matter-of-fact, may become a flat adjective, thus, a matter-of-fact man.

6

He rather affects hostility to metaphysics and poetry;

“ because," he says, "I am a mere matter-of-fact man.”—H. C. Robinson, Diary, 1830.

Thus we speak of garden flowers and hedge flowers :

Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,
And still where many a garden flower grows wild.'

Oliver Goldsmith, Deserted Village.

In some instances we may see that a present adjective which is now nothing but an adjective, has been a substantive at no very remote date. Thus milch, in the expressions 'milch cow,' 'milch goat,' &c., is a mere adjective, and yet it is nothing but a phonetic variety of the substantive milk, just as church and kirk are varieties of the same word. In the German language the current substantive for milk has the form of our present adjective, viz. Milch.

2. The second, which may be called the Flexional, is by modification of form either in the way of flexion, as heaven's gate, or through a symphytic formative, as heavenly mansions. The latter, being the most prevalent of all modes of adjection, has occupied to itself the whole name of Adjective. 3. The third way,

which

may

be called the Phrasal, is by means of a symbol-word, and most prominently by the preposition of.

In the compound knighthood the word knight is (originally) an adjective, and affords an instance of the adjective by collocation. We may express the same idea in this form, knight's rank, or thus, knightly rank, as in the second adjection.

« IndietroContinua »