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  • The styling ‘cool’ seems to go on and on! Did it begin in the US with the 50s Beat Generation? or the 20s Jazz culture?

    Is the form ‘how * is that’ another of the ways of doing extra emphasis – do people say ‘how super cool is that’?

  • I agree the sequence is emphatic; its purpose is often to re-awaken the reader’s interest. Here, in examples from a ballet magazine and a fanzine, the word ‘cool’ is recycled two or three times:

    “I even have an assistant, Marina (a first year on the teaching degree and absolutely lovely), to help me out. How cool is THAT? Damn cool, actually.”

    “…drummer Sam came to ask Paul, the singer, for a light middleway through NYC’s solo. How cool is THAT?! Really cool. The only uncool thing was…”

    I have no idea how much ‘cool’ is used now compared with 2007; my son reckons it is uncool to use ‘cool’ – he’d say ‘safe’ or ‘sweet’. But the word ‘uncool’ is sweet.

  • “These phrases are not serious enquires. . .” How unspellcheck is THAT?

    ‘Enquires’ is not a noun. It’s the present tense of the verb infinitive ‘to inquire’.
    The plural of the singular noun ‘inquiry’ is ‘inquiries’ — the Royal Commission or inquest sort of inquiry, not the deadly serious enquiry ‘How pedantic is THAT?’.

    But once upon a time before dictionaries became promiscuous collectors of illiteracies, MS Word’s spellchecker would try to suggest ‘enquires’ or ‘inquires’ whenever we typed ‘enquiries’. The result is that two generations of officially grammar-deprived Australians are now convinced that ‘enquires’ is a noun.
    Of course it is, we say. Like the invites to a party. And how more fun is THAT?

  • Yes, this was a typo – ‘enquires’ should have been ‘enquiries’ [now fixed]. Occasionally one of these gets past us. But I wouldn’t say that ‘enquires’ is an inflection of the verb ‘to inquire’. In British English ‘inquire’ and ‘enquire’ are both verbs; ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’ are both nouns (of which ‘enquiry’ far more frequent). The SOED makes a distinction in meaning, but as this is a bit off-topic, I’ll stop here.

  • A slightly similar – and equally rhetorical – formulation I’ve noticed a fair bit is: How stupid am I?/How hot is Jake Gyllenhaal? etc.

    As with How X is THAT, the form is that of a question but the intention is emphatic and seeks confirmation (or sympathetic recognition) from the listener/reader.

    Of course there is a standard emphatic formula with ‘how’ – How stupid I am! How hot JG is! – but in the case of the ‘new’ formula the order of the verb and pronoun is reversed.

    Any thoughts on this one?

  • might the difference be, and what might the choice depend on?
    What I would suggest, and have done in my writing in the past, is that the request for information formally inherent in the ‘interrogative’ here, does, again formally, invite or allow a response from the listener. And to satisfy the ‘request’, the expected response would be a high degree of the quality expressed by the adjective in question. You actually indirectly make that point in your title ‘Very adjective I’d say’.
    So although the listener understands the pragmatics of an utterance such as How cool is THAT? in the sense that they know the speaker is not really asking for a response, they also know that the answer to the ‘question’ is something like Very cool indeed. The speaker can be considered to be seeking tacit consensus in a ‘silent’ response that provides the high degree of adjectival quality.

  • (Apologies to all. The first part of my comment above managed to get deleted, so here it is now.)

    Hi Gill,
    The use of interrogative word order here (How X is that?), in what you rightfully point out to be an expression that has an exclamatory, rhetorical function and not requiring or expecting a response from the listener/reader, is still, I think, significant.
    The actual grammatical structure IS interrogative, in contrast to the ‘exclamative mood’ word order ‘How X that is?, so the speaker has a mood choice between ‘interrogative’ and ‘exclamative’.

  • Hi Gordon: Yes, you’re spot-on of course: the choice of interrogative mood is meaningful. I didn’t have space to say that often the speaker goes right ahead with the ‘answer’; hence my title. But see the reply to the first comment above, where I gave two examples of this: one is “How cool is THAT? Damn cool, actually”. Both examples came from magazines, so I assume the writer is simulating a real conversation, and that here the reader is implicated in a fabricated consensus that there’s a high degree of cool involved in ‘having a lovely assistant’. (I’d call it pretty damn sexist.)

  • P.S. to reply to Gordon: I meant that the remark was sexist, not the fact that the speaker has a new assistant. I’ll repeat the example: “I even have an assistant, Marina (a first year on the teaching degree and absolutely lovely), to help me out. How cool is THAT? Damn cool, actually.”

  • Interesting post, Gill. One difference between ‘How X is THAT?’ and ‘How X that is!’ is obviously that one is informal/modern and the other is formal/old-fashioned. The neutral thing to say is ‘Isn’t that X?’ or ‘That’s so X!’ Another informal modern formulation you might like to consider is ‘X or what?’ (or ‘Is that X or what?’) eg ‘Pathetic or what?’ And then there’s the very emphatic ‘Is that X or is that X?’, where the adjective is repeated – eg ‘Is that great or is that great?’