Data points: distant compounds 8/3/10

They’re all over the place. From today’s NYT, “But What Did You Do for Me Today, Developers Ask Brokers” (by Christine Haughney):

Ms. [Carrie] Chiang [of the Corcoran Group] specializes in guiding wealthy buyers through the glamorous and mundane aspects of purchasing eight-digit homes with indoor swimming pools and 1,000-bottle wine cellars.

It’s eight-digit homes ‘homes with eight-digit prices’ that caught my eye. It’s one step removed from eight-digit prices ‘prices that are eight-digit figures’ (and depends on knowing what it means for a home to have a price on it), which is still not as directly interpretable as eight-digit figure/number ‘figure/number with eight digits in it’ (though that still depends on choosing the reading ‘numeral’ for number and knowing that the figures in question are denumerated in U.S. dollars).

Eight-digit figure/number is probably to be classified as an ordinary (Type O) N+N compound, in which the semantic relationship between the second (head) N and the first (modifier) N is one from a small set of conventionalized relationships (composition, in this case), so that the compound is (relatively) easily interpreted; see the brief discussion of Goldilocks number here.

But eight-digit homes is two steps removed from this, well out into distant (Type X, X for extraordinary or exceptional) territory. Imagine trying to explain this to a child, even one who can cope with things like $34,000,000 as an expression of price.

2 Responses to “Data points: distant compounds 8/3/10”

  1. MWarhol Says:

    Oh. I thought you were going to speculate on how one might use indoor swimming pools and 1,000-bottle wine cellars to purchase such a home.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    To MWarhol: Naah, that’s just a routine potential ambiguity in modifier attachment, which shouldn’t give pause to any cooperative reader. If you start looking for these you’ll go crazy, because they occur on pretty much every page of writing that will come past your eyes (and are similarly common in speech, even speech that’s carefully composed). They’re a feature of language and could be eliminated only at a tremendous cost.

    But you almost surely knew that, and were just being waggish.

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