Porn hypallage?

Noticed on a piece of porn spam just before I deleted it: a reference to amateur tits. You can find many hits for the expression, and also for amateur knockers and amateur boobs. There are a fair number for professional tits (but many fewer for professional knockers and professional boobs, because these expressions have other uses not referring to breasts — referring instead to people who habitually “knock” other people and their work and to people who habitually behave like idiots).

The first analytic question here is whether amateur and professional in these expressions are adjectives or nouns (or, possibly, adjectives in some uses and nouns in others). In either case, the expressions are composites of the form

modifier M + head noun N

and their semantic interpretation isn’t the default.

For composites in general, the default is (letting X‘ stand for the denotation of the expression X) for (M + N)’ to be a subset of N‘, that is, for the composite to be subsective, or hyponymic (a Christmas cookie is a cookie, a big cookie is a cookie). But non-subsective composites, of several types, abound. (For instance, I’ve posted on Language Log a couple of times about one type, resembloid composites, in which (M + N)’ merely resembles N‘ in some relevant way; see here and here.)

For Adj + N composites, the default relationship R between Adj and N is predication: a big dog is a dog that is big. Such cases involve predicating adjectives. But there are several types of non-predicating adjectives, some of which I’ve posted about — for instance, contiguous country, here, and regional country, here.

For N1 + N2 composites, there is also a question about the relationship R between N1‘ and N2‘. The default is for R to be one of a small set of relations (predication, possession, location, containment, material, etc.). But new composites can be created on the spot, in which R can be exquisitely specific or can have additional content beyond the default R. Language Log has had a series of postings on non-default Rs, starting with Geoff Pullum’s entertaining canoe wife posting.

Back to amateur tits and the like (from here on I’ll let this one example stand for the set). There is a noun amateur (as in “They are amateurs”) and an adjective amateur (as in “This is all so amateur”), so in the composite amateur tits it could go either way. However, both sorts of composites would be subsective: amateur tits, on either understanding, are tits.

So the complexity of amateur tits lies in the relationship R between M and N.

When M is N, R is default relationship of possession: ‘tits of, belonging to, an amateur’ (where the noun refers to ‘a person who engages in a pursuit … on an unpaid basis’ (NOAD2)),

When M is Adj, R is certainly non-default, non-predicating: amateur tits are not tits that are amateur (where the adjective refers to ‘engaging in or engaged in without payment; nonprofessional’ (NOAD2)). Instead, the amateur participant in the scene is not the tits, but the woman who bears them. That is, the property of amateurishness has been transferred, or displaced, from the woman to her breasts. This is an instance of the figure of speech known as hypallage, which I’ve posted on several times, in particular here (with, among other examples, free-range mayonnaise) and here (focusing on distracted driving).

My first instinct was to treat amateur tits as having the adjective tits in a hypallage. But the noun analysis (with amateur related to tits by the possession relationship) is also possible. In fact, it’s very hard to find evidence that clearly bears on the choice between these analyses, so for the moment I’m leaving the question open.

One Response to “Porn hypallage?”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    My favorite weird R is the one in milk tooth, which unpacks to ‘tooth acquired during the period of life in which one habitually drinks milk’.

    Ivan Derzhanski worked on grouping nominal compounds by R across various languages; he used head-last languages exclusively as a matter of convenience. I don’t seem to have his paper around any more, but I recycled (with permission) many of his examples in my reference grammar for Lojban. Unfortunately, the online format is screwed up, but I’ve reposted the list to my blog.

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