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M. L. Nesbitt


Mr. Noun

T HE first Part-of-Speech that was called was Mr. Noun. He is a stout big fellow, very well dressed, for he does not mind showing that he is very rich.

As Mr. Noun came forward, Serjeant Parsing rose, put his pen behind his ear, arranged his papers on the table before him, and looking at Mr. Noun through his eye-glass, asked: "What is your name?"

"Name," answered Mr. Noun.

"Yes, your name?" repeated Serjeant Parsing.

"Name," again answered Mr. Noun.

"Do not trifle, sir," said the Judge, sternly; "what is your name? Answer at once, and truly."

"I have answered truly," replied Mr. Noun. "My name is Name,  for noun  means name.  The name of everything belongs to me, so I am called Mr. Name, or Mr. Noun, which means the same thing, and all my words are called nouns."

"The name of everything  belongs to you?" asked Serjeant Parsing, in surprise.

"Yes," answered Mr. Noun, "the name of everything."

"What? Do you mean to say that the name of everything I can see round me now is one of your words, and is called a noun?"

"I do indeed," said Mr. Noun. "The name of everything you can see, or touch, or taste, or smell, or hear, belongs to me."

"What," said Serjeant Parsing, "is this desk  yours then, and the ink  and the pen  and the window?"

"The words  that name  them are all mine," said Mr. Noun. "Of course I have nothing to do with the things.  No gentleman in Grammar-land has anything to do with things,  only with words; and I assure you, you cannot name  anything that you can see, or touch, or taste, or smell, or hear, without using one of my words. Desk,pen,ink, window, water, wine, fire, smoke, light, lightning, thunder,  a taste,  a smell,  a noise  all these words belong to me, and are called nouns."

"I see," said Serjeant Parsing; "you can hear  thunder, and smell  smoke, and taste  wine. And I suppose dinner  and tea  are yours also?"

"Certainly, the words  breakfast, dinner, and tea, are mine," replied Mr. Noun. "The things  are what the people live upon in Schoolroom-shire, but they could not name what they eat without using my words. The servant would have to make signs to let people know that dinner was ready; she could not say  so unless I allowed her to use my noun dinner."

"Well," said Serjeant Parsing, "if you have the name of everything we can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear, all I can say is, I hope you are satisfied, and do not claim any more words besides."

"Indeed," replied Mr, Noun, drawing himself proudly up, "I have not mentioned nearly all my words. I told you at first that I have the name of everything,  and there are plenty of things that you know about, although you cannot see, or touch, or taste, or smell, or hear them. For instance, love,  or anger,  or happiness.  You can feel them in your heart, and know they are there, although you cannot touch them with your fingers, or taste them with your tongue, or find them out by any of your five senses."

"Do you mean to say, then," asked Serjeant Parsing, "that when a child feels naughty in its heart—?"

"Naughtiness is mine," said Mr. Noun; "the word  naughtiness, for it is the name  of the something bad that the child feels."

"And when it is kind?"

"Kindness is mine, because it is the name  of the something kind and nice it feels there.  I have a good many more words that end in ness,  and that are the names of things you can find out about, and talk about, though you cannot tell what shape or colour or smell or taste they have; like cleverness, silliness, idleness, ugliness, quickness."

"I see," said Serjeant Parsing. "You cannot tell what shape or colour cleverness is, but you can soon find out whether a boy has any of it by the way in which he does his lessons."

"Yes," said Mr. Noun; "and the names of his lessons are mine too, for the lessons are things that you can learn about; geography, history, writing, arithmetic,  all these names belong to me."

"Really Mr. Noun," said Serjeant Parsing, "you do claim a big share of words. You will be making out that the names of persons  belong to you next."

"So they do," replied Mr. Noun; "no matter who the persons are, their names belong to me. I have the name of every person in the world from good Queen Victoria on her throne to the raggedest beggar-boy in the street. There is not a child in Schoolroom-shire whose name is not a noun. And I have not the names of people  only, but of all pet dogs, cats, birds, horses, or rabbits: Fido, Tabby, Bright-eye, Tiny, Shag,  and any other pet names you can think of. Indeed, I am very particular about such names. I call them proper nouns,  and expect them always to be written with a capital letter."

"Proper nouns?" repeated Serjeant Parsing. "Then what are the other nouns called?"

"They are only common  nouns," answered Mr. Noun, carelessly.

"Then all names are common nouns, except the names of persons or animals, are they?" asked Serjeant Parsing.

"No, no, no," said Mr. Noun, quite crossly: "the name of an animal is not a proper noun unless it is the own special name of one animal, that marks it from other animals of the same kind. Dog  is the name given to all dogs, they have the name in common between them; but Fido  is the name of one particular dog, his own proper name by which his master calls him. So dog  is a common noun, Fido  is a proper noun."

"Oh, I see," said Serjeant Parsing. "Then the particular name of any person or animal is a proper noun, and all other names are common nouns."

"I never said that," exclaimed Mr. Noun. "How very stup—I mean, you do not understand me, my dear sir. I never said that the particular name of a place or thing was not a proper noun too. Every particular and special name, whether of a person, an animal, a place, or a thing, is a proper noun. Every place has its own proper name, or should have. Every country and mountain and river and town in Europe is named with a proper  noun. Why, you would not call England  a common noun, I should hope? There are plenty of countries in the world, but there is only one country that is called by the proper name of dear old England. Country  is a common noun, all countries have it in common, but when you want to speak of any particular country you use the proper nouns, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, etc., etc."

"Well, I think we can understand that the particular names of places  are proper nouns," said Serjeant Parsing; "but you spoke about things  also. Surely things have no proper names? You do not give names to chairs and tables, and call them Mr. Leanback or Squire Mahogany?"

"Not exactly," answered Mr. Noun; "we do not name chairs and tables with proper names, but what do you say to houses? They are things, are they not? And you may have heard of such names as Marlborough House, Springfield Cottage, Ivy Lodge."

"Well, no other things besides houses have proper names, have they?" said Serjeant Parsing.

"Books are things," said Mr. Noun, "and they all have proper names. So have ships and boats, Warrior, Sea-foam, Fairy,  or something of that sort. I have heard of a cannon which was called Roarer,  and you ought to know that King Arthur's sword was named Excalibur.  Indeed, you can give a proper name to anything you like that you want to distinguish from other things of the same sort."

"And all such proper names, or proper nouns, as you call them, must be written with a capital letter, must they? Whether they are the names of persons, animals, places, or things, little or big?"

"Sir," answered Mr. Noun, "littleness or bigness makes no difference. If you had a pet fly, and called it Silver-wing, Silver-wing must be written with a capital S, because it is a proper noun."

"Well, Mr. Noun," said Serjeant Parsing, "your ideas of what is proper seem to me rather peculiar, but I suppose Dr. Syntax has no objection, so I will say nothing."

Dr. Syntax silently bowed his head.

The Judge then spoke. "Mr. Noun, you have claimed a great many words, and it remains to be seen whether all the other Parts-of-Speech agree to these words being yours. In order to find out whether they do or no, I will ask our friends from Schoolroom-shire to write out, each of them, a list of twenty names, the names of anything they can see, hear, touch, taste, smell,  or think about,  or the proper  names of any persons, animals, places, or things they know; and when next we meet I will read out what they have written, and we shall hear whether any one has any good reason to give why they should not be called nouns."

The Judge then rose from his seat, and every one left the court.