If you're hoping to make a tweet go viral, you might think to add a kitten picture, celebrity gossip, some wacky humor, or a dose of feel-good inspiration. What you would probably never think to include is an obscure grammar rule about adjective order.
But that's just what the internet is currently going wild over.
It all started when BBC culture editor Matt Anderson posted an image of a page from Mark Forsyth's guide to writing and speaking with style The Elements of Eloquence:
Things native English speakers know, but don't know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL-- Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonBBC) September 3, 2016
What followed was an unlikely avalanche of shares and follow-up posts by fellow word nerds eager to celebrate the strangeness of language and debate the truth of this particular rule. (If you're a card-carrying grammar nut and are looking for a deep dive into the correctness of Forsyth's pronouncement, here's a post on the topic from Oxford English professor Simon Horobin.)
The tweet was even picked up by popular blog Kottke, which somehow managed to unearth a poem commemorating the oddities of English word order.
How to make grammar go viral.
But what seems to have captured the attention of Kottke and a lot of others isn't just the rule itself, but the strangeness of the fact that we can know the rule without knowing that we know it.
As the BBC humorously put it in its piece on the furor, "The former US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, famously warned that in any situation there can be known knowns and unknown unknowns... But missing from his list were the unknown knowns, the things we know, but don't realize that we do."
Which seems to be the underlying lesson of the tweet's completely unexpected popularity. Just like "the dress" that nearly broke the internet last year, people seem to respond hugely to anything that makes the familiar unfamiliar or reveals the quirks of our brains and the strangeness hidden in the everyday objects. That isn't a bad thing for a business owner hoping to get attention for his company to know.
Either that's the reason or there are way more grammar geeks out there than anyone realized.