Friday, September 19, 2008

Adjective query

I am puzzling over a phrase, just contemplating which alternative would sound best or be best, I guess.

Anyway, here it is. Just an example to see what you value when you assemble a sentence (no right answer, that is, or no wrong answer anyway!):

He lounged around, elegant and drunk.
He lounged around, drunk and elegant.

Not a great line, but what I am squinting at is those two adjectives-- which order would you put them?
You can swap them for other words, if you think it will help. For example, I think "drunk" might be too short a sound -- one syllable -- for the end of a sentence, so I might say, elegant and inebriated (if I were going to be obnoxious), or elegant and hungover, or....??

So justify. For example, I tend to want "elegant" first because that's setting up the expectation of something aesthetic, which "drunk" or equivalent will then undercut, thus becoming a bit of punchline.

But I can see the powerful punchy Anglo-saxon "drunk" first, and the, well, elegant French word providing more of a visual.

It's okay if you say that I spend way too much time on triviality. :) But I find that often this sort of opposition/pairing is an aspect of voice.

12 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

What are we trying to emphasize? That he's elegant even when he's drunk, or that he's drunk but isn't a clod and is, in fact, managing to hold onto his innate elegance?

Also, which characteristic do you want to stick in our heads more? To say he's drunk but elegant makes me think he's simply not swaying to an invisible breeze and is possibly brushing at a rogue lock of hair that's fallen in his face.

To say he's elegant but drunk makes me think of Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in that red smoking jacket. Suave.

You're right to be dickering over this one.

Ian said...

Of course, it partly depends upon just HOW drunk he is. At a certain point, I believe you're allowed to use drunk/drink as adjectives and adverbs.

He lounged around, drunkly elegant.

;)

Personally, I like the sound of "drunk and elegant" when read aloud, because with my plain, Middle American accent, "elegant" and "and" rhyme. "Elegant and drunk" to me sounds like "elegentendrunk" - which sounds odd. The other way, "drunkenelegent," rolls more trippingly off the tongue. Or perhaps more drinkly. I'm feeling a bit drinkish myself tonight. Cocktails, anyone?

Timber Beast said...

...an elegant drunk. Perhaps?

Kathleen said...

He lounged around, elegantly attempting to recover from last night's wine.

That's not perfect, but I think a phrase along those lines would work much better. I know that's an adverb, but "elegant and attempting" doesn't flow as well. I suppose "still elegant as he attempted to recover..." would also work, if that accurately describes him.

This also assumes that this is the beginning line of a book or chapter, and the reader would appreciate such a quick summing up of not only Mr. Elegant's current state, but also the events of the night before.

If the reader doesn't need that, I'd substitute another phrase that gives more information. I don't like to end the sentence with "drunk" either, as it's just far too abrupt for my voice.

"Elegantly drunk" and "drunkenly elegant" are options that also violate the "no adverb" rule that so many people adhere to... but quite honestly, I think that either paints a more vivid picture in this case than "drunk and elegant." One means Susan's first example, and the other means her second, and neither leaves any doubt in the reader's mind as to exactly what he is. (At least, to me.)

Liane Gentry Skye said...

I think it is a matter choosing where you want the reader's eye to fall and what your POV approach is.

Using the conjunctive, each of the adjectives are competing for top billing. One is going to lose weight when billed equally with the other.

In Liane speak, it would be, he lounged around, elegant. Drunk. But then, "drunk" isn't a complete sentence and we aren't in deep POV...at least not yet. So I'd risk facing the red pen. :)

Or, (Theresa don't cringe LOL), he lounged around elegant--and drunk.

Or, He lounged around, elegant. Drunk?

You know, this could be an entire exercise in itself. :)

Jolie said...

"Drunk and elegant," for sure. I've seen the third options presented by other commenters, but I think you're already fine with "drunk and elegant."

Readers will see the first adjective, "drunk," and will then expect any subsequent descriptions to fit with their preconception of drunkenness, which probably involves inelegance. Then you throw in "elegant" and give the reader a nice surprise that tells them quite a bit about this character in this moment.

Edittorrent said...

LOL@ Liane.

"Elegant" links back conceptually to the main clause. So the question is, do you want to make a circular sentence, or do you want to shift out of one concept and into another?

I prefer more linear sentences, so I'd probably go with "elegant and drunk." Except, as has been pointed out, that's not so easy on the ears. I prefer the punch of "drunk" at the end of that sentence -- if you're looking to shift away from elegant lounging, that's a good word to get you there. But maybe try something other than "elegant" to get a better rhythm. Graceful, stylish, refined, dignified -- there are a lot of connotations to "elegant," so consider what you mean by elegant. Do you mean dignified/restrained/polite? Probably not. Probably you mean something more like graceful.

Theresa

Anonymous said...

What's the tone of the story? If it's subtly ironic, you might what to go with "elegantly inebriated." If the humor in the piece tends to go for the punch, stick with "drunk."

Edittorrent said...

What good thoughts, everyone! As I said, there's no right answer-- it's what we want to achieve, and that's going to depend on more than just meaning-- as Ian suggests, SOUND matters too.
And Liane, totally POV! Is this from inside him or outside? That would make a real difference. From inside, he might want to emphasize that he's elegant and only reluctantly admit the drunk part. From Omniscient (outside), well, maybe the drunk part would be better.

I am watching Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and no one does elegant drunk so well. And he's only pretending! I mean, he's pretending to be drunk when he's actually being all heroic. Odd's fish, what a film. What conflict. What costumes. I love that film.
Alicia

green_knight said...

I think I'd go shopping for new words.

lounge, drunk, elegant - they just don't mesh in my opinion. If someone is lounging drunkenly, they will have lost some of their poise, their elegance. If they are lounging in an elegant fashion, I would go for a more upper-class euphemism.

To combine two adjectives, I think they need to go together.

jwhit said...

As with so many writing decisions: it depends. I have no quarrel with the two words. Being somewhat contrasting and unexpected, I think they work well together. The order, to me, would depend on the effect you're after re this particular character and what the reader may already know about him.

e.g.
He lounged around, drunk yet still elegant.

He lounged around, elegant yet still drunk.

Taken out of context it's a bit hard to say. What comes after? Is this is a set-up so the character can run to the toilet and .. well, you know. Or is he trying to attract someone else in the room who is put off. Whose POV? Is it the woman telling this? Or his mother? A detective commenting on the suspect, a la Mike Hammer?

Not enough information.

That's my take on it. Now I'll go back and read the others' comments.

Wendy Laharnar said...

I think 'around' spoils the flow.
For me the punch is in:
He lounged,elegant and drunk.