Annals of hypallage

From a Talk of the Town piece — “End is Near Dept.: Fallout”, by Nick Paumgarten — in the May 10 New Yorker:

Last month in Washington, President Obama convened world leaders to discuss the dangers of nuclear proliferation and of inadquately secured nuclear material. For people of a certain furrowed cast of mind, the summit revived fears of a nuclear terrorist attack on an American city.

It’s the “furrowed cast of mind”. No one’s cast of mind is furrowed. However, in contemplating the possibility of nuclear attack your brow might be furrowed — furrowed brow is one of those expressions that might be classified as a common collocation, an idiom, or a cliché (or several of these at once), but it’s certainly some kind of fixed expression — so that the furrowing is transferred, in the telling, from the brow to the cast of mind it accompanies. This is a particularly nice example of the transferred epithet, or hypallage, a figure of speech I’ve talked about several times (most recently on this blog, here, with reference to the expression distracted driving, and with a link back to a Language Log discussion; earlier notable examples included free-range mayonnaise).

Hypallage is a type of non-predicating modification, in expressions of the form X N where X is syntactically a modifier of N but is not interpreted as being predicated of N. Some types of non-predicating modification are pretty easy to pick out: for instance, “pseudo-adjectives”, as in electrical engineering, where the A isn’t predicated of the N but instead evokes another N (electricity in this case) that figures in the interpretation of the combination.

(It can be hard to distinguish hypallage from other figures, in particular metaphor and metonymy, and I’m not sure it’s profitable to try to carve up the world of non-predicating modification into traditional categories like these.)

Here are two further reasonably clear instances of hypallage. From a postcard I got a while back, advertising an Erotic Arts and Crafts Fair (for Valentine’s Day) in Toronto (thanks to Chris Ambidge), the announcement of an erotic bake sale. Simplifying (for the moment) both the name of the event as a whole and the name of the featured event within it, we get: erotic fair, erotic sale. Now, the fair really isn’t erotic, and the sale certainly isn’t; instead, the fair celebrates things erotic (I’ll put aside the question of what makes things erotic), and what’s on sale is goods with an erotic theme, with reference to or depictions of things erotic.

The actual examples are somewhat complicated by the fact that the head N in each case is not a single word, but a complex expression (arts and crafts fair, bake goods). Arts and crafts fair is a relatively unproblematic N + N compound (with a coordinate first element), with one of the canonical interpretations for compounds, ‘HeadN for/of ModifierN’. Bake goods is a tougher nut, since it seems to be partway on the path from A + N, with bake ‘produced by baking’ as an anomalous-form  A (it doesn’t look like an A) historically reduced from the PSP-V A baked (a reduction that’s come up often on Language Log), to N + N, with bake as an anomalous-meaning N (it isn’t the N bake of clam bake, etc.).

3 Responses to “Annals of hypallage”

  1. Names and occupations « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Then there’s organic donuts, with organic having drifted from applying to the grain to applying to the donuts it’s made into (on the road to hypallage, discussed most recently on this blog here). […]

  2. More on C/M « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] otherwise it looks like a transferred epithet, or hypallage (most recent discussion on this blog here), with violence attributed to the spreading rather than the […]

  3. Shirtless hypallage | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on this blog on 11/8/09, the examples distracted driving and drunk driving. And in “Annals of hypallage” on this blog on 5/12/10, furrowed cast of mind, Erotic Arts and Crafts Fair, and erotic bake […]

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