Archive for the ‘Compounds’ Category

to glowstick

March 21, 2015

A scene in an old Criminal Minds show, caught this morning on tv: college kids on spring break on South Padre Island, dancing with glow sticks:

A glow stick is a self-contained, short-term light-source. It consists of a translucent plastic tube containing isolated substances that, when combined, make light through chemiluminescence, so it does not require an external energy source. The light cannot be turned off, and can be used only once. Glow sticks are often used for recreation, but may also be relied upon for light during military, police, fire, or EMS operations. (Wikipedia link)

The compound glow stick (or glowstick) has been verbed, with a full range of uses for the verb. (more…)

Bird seed

February 20, 2015

Yesterday, a Bizarro with an ambiguity in auto parts. Today, another ambiguity, somewhat simpler than that one:

Two interpretations for the N + N compound bird seed, differing in the semantic relationship between the head N seed and the accompanying N bird — one like parrot seed ‘seed to give parrots, to feed parrots’, one like grass seed ‘seed of grass, i.e., of the grass plant; seed to grow grass from’.


Two from BZ

February 10, 2015

I don’t usually pass on postings from other blogs, but on the 5th Ben Zimmer blogged two notable things on Language Log that are worth drawing attention to: one on an amazing headline from Bloomberg News and a death notice for Suzette Haden Elgin.


What would you do?

January 25, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:


Without a piece of cultural background, this is just a silly story about a polar bear opening a bar in the Klondike. If you have that background, it’s a bit of language play turning on the ambiguity of Klondike bar.


Bizarro’s 30th

January 24, 2015

The Comics Kingdom site tells me that the 21st was the 30th anniversary of Bizarro comics by Don Piraro, the first having been published on 1/21/85. Here are two Bizarros with linguistic content that haven’t been blogged on here: one from 12/18/13, one from much earlier, possibly from 3/29/89 (I have trouble reading the data):





January 24, 2015

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes features the dreaded snow shark:


It all started with Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie Jaws, with its threatening fins moving through the water and its ominous music. In the cartoon, the fins are moving through the snow, advancing on the hapless snowman.


diabetic X

January 18, 2015

Dee Michel wrote me a little while ago with the Adj + N phrase diabetic socks, which he found entertaining: how could socks be diabetic? The short answer is that though diabetic is an adjective in this phrase, it functions semantically like a noun, in particular like the noun diabetic ‘someone suffering from diabetes'; diabetic socks are ‘socks for diabetics’. From Wikipedia:

A diabetic sock is a non-binding and non-elasticated sock which is designed so as to not constrict the foot or leg. Typically sufferers of diabetes are the most common users of this type of sock. Diabetes raises the blood sugar level, which can increase the risk of foot ulcers. Diabetic socks are made to be unrestrictive of circulation.

(I am in fact wearing diabetic socks as I write this posting.)

So diabetic here is a type of non-predicating adjective, a type known in the trade as a pseudo-adjective: an Adj in form, but interpreted by reference to a N.

In the case of diabetic, we have not one, but two, pseudo-adjectives — one evoking the noun diabetic (as above), one evoking the noun diabetes (as in diabetic coma ‘coma caused by diabetes’).


Small moon

December 14, 2014

From xkcd, Small Moon:

Return to “Return to the dwarf planet Pluto” of 9/25/08 on LLog, which had xkcd 473 (“Still Raw”) in it, plus a discussion of resembloid composites like dwarf moon.

Feuilleton: craplet

December 14, 2014

Come across in the December 6th Economist in a piece on jail-breaking mobile phones: “Others have done so to get rid of all the annoying craplets installed by their carrier.” The portmanteau craplet (crap + applet) was new to me, but it’s been around long enough for the magazine to print it without quotation marks — and there’s even Wikipedia coverage, in the article on pre-installed software.

Two notes: on portmanteaus and compounds; and on the specialization of meaning in craplet, which is a bit more than crap applet.


Fairy bread

November 26, 2014

A few days ago I posted on compounds of the form fairy X, including fairy bread, which I didn’t entirely know how to classify. Now Benita Bendon Campbell has written to remind me of a poem from “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), which she learned when she was about 6, found  appealing and mysterious, and still does:

Come up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.

In this context, it looks like fairy bread is some sort of magical bread that fairies might eat — that is, bread ‘belonging to’ or ‘associated with’ fairies (like fairy gold, fairy dust, fairy wand, and others in my fairy X posting).

Now some lexicographic notes on the compound.



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