Data points: distant compounds 11/19/10

Headline in the November 18 (S.F. peninsula) Daily Post (p. 11):

Vitamin sale rapist guilty

Vitamin sale rapist resists interpretation as an ordinary (Type O) N+N compound, in which the semantic relationship between the head N rapist and the modifier N vitamin sale (itself a N+N compound) is drawn from a small set of relationships: a rapist of vitamin sales, someone who rapes vitamin sales? a rapist composed of vitamin sales? etc. No way.

So it’s a distant compound, a kind of Type X compound, like canoe wife, dentist fear girl, hurricane money, and many others discussed on Language Log and this blog. You have to know the story. Which is told, briefly, in the first paragraph of the story, in case the reader hasn’t been following the case:

A 61-year-old Redwood City man has been found guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman who was trying to sell him vitamins.

My first guess was that the man had gained entry to a home (where he then raped a woman) by posing as a vitamin salesman. But no, the other way around: he invited the woman, who sells Herbalife vitamins, to his home to discuss a purchase (and then raped her there). So there was a rape that was in some way connected to a vitamin sale, but you have to know the story to know what the connection was.


One Response to “Data points: distant compounds 11/19/10”

  1. Pepsification « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] my eye. Many of them require considerable background knowledge or context to understand, just as distant N+N compounds do  (that’s why I included so much context from Osvaldo Golijov to explain […]

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