Conversion by truncation

Very commonly, adjectival modifiers are converted to nouns by truncation, with the Adj in an Adj + N phrase treated, at least historically, as a noun with (roughly) the meaning of the whole phrase. Monday’s NYT (January 4) had a related shift in the meaning of a N — with the first N in a N + N compound noun treated as having the meaning of the whole compound. From the editorial “Where the Action Is on Climate”:

California’s goal of cutting greenhouse by one-quarter by 2020 is plausible partly because the state has been so successful in improving the efficiency of its power plants and buildings, promoting renewable energy and insisting on fuel-efficient vehicles.

It’s clear from the context that greenhouse here is to be understood as ‘greenhouse gases’. Without the context, it would be hard to interpret at all.

(Greenhouse gases itself is interpreted via a chain of reasoning that depends on context and an appreciation of the metaphor it embodies. But then, as the Language Loggers point out every so often, N + N compounds very often can’t be interpreted without considerable background knowledge.)

As for nouning of adjectives by truncation, there are innumerable examples. Psychology students might tell you that they are specializing in experimental, social, or clinical, for instance.

I have a file of assorted examples, collected from a variety of sources (mostly ADS-L postings). These are just examples that caught my eye; I’m not setting myself up as a curator of nouning by tuncation. A sampling (most of them count nouns, but there are some mass nouns in there as well):

fatal ‘fatal accident, (driving) fatality’
creative, in several senses, including ‘creative person’
social ‘Social Security number’
social ‘social networking’
indian ‘Indian restaurant’
viral ‘viral video’
physical/mental ‘physical/mental work’
attending ‘attending physician’ [in the OED as of June 2009]

8 Responses to “Conversion by truncation”

  1. decimal « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] fraction’, a meaning that according to OED2 has been attested since 1651. This is a conversion by truncation — the adjective decimal converted to a noun by truncating the phrase […]

  2. Postings on nounings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 1/6/10: Conversion by truncation (link) including conversion of adjectives to […]

  3. Data points: nouning, zero plurals 8/9/10 « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] makes life-like inflatable dolls (inflatables — note nouning of adjective, either directly or by truncation) for the movies: Sitting in her studio in the woods [in Oakland, New Jersey], surrounded by paints, […]

  4. Forensics « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] and epistolary¬†here are instances of "nouning by truncation" (see here). As perhaps the 19th-century noun forensic was, truncated from something like forensic exercise.] […]

  5. micropolitans « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] there’s the nouning by truncation (for general discussion, see this posting, which has a small selection of examples from a large […]

  6. Andy Singer « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Chinese ‘Chinese food’, a nouning by truncation of the longer expression Chinese food, as in “Let’s eat / order / serve / take out […]

  7. Truncated lame duck « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (here), but sometimes the source is a N + N compound, like greenhouse for greenhouse gases (here) — and lame duck for lame duck […]

  8. husband | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] compound husband pillow is then truncated to husband. (See “Conversion by tuncation”, with greenhouse ‘greenhouse gases’. My files have several more cases, including sneak […]

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