The cowbell industry

Via Federico Escobar, a 10/5/09 Farley Katz cartoon in the New Yorker:

As I note every month or so, N + N compounds have a large range of possible interpretations, hinging on the relationship between the referents of the two nouns. Even sticking to the canonical relationships, every such compound is potentially ambiguous, though some of the interpretations will be absurd.

As in this case. The conventionalized interpretation for cowbell is ‘bell for cows’, but here the cartoonist has chosen the alternative ‘bell made of cows’. Not a pretty sight.

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