Data points: interpreting compounds 12/25/11

Yesterday morning on radio station KFJC, host Robert Emmett was talking about various early movies showing in the Bay Area and came to an actor he described as a silent cowboy. This wasn’t intended to be the Adj silent plus the head N cowboy (though it has the same accent pattern as this combination), but rather the N silent plus this head: cowboy (well, someone who plays a cowboy) in silents — that is, in silent movies.

So, first we have the nouning silent ‘silent film/movie’ (note specialization of the Adj silent ‘without sound’ to the movie context, and recall that before the advent of talkies, all movies were silent in this sense). Then, we get compounds in which the N silent serves as first element — like silent cowboy. Like so many compounds, this one takes some serious interpretive work.


2 Responses to “Data points: interpreting compounds 12/25/11”

  1. Data points: interpreting compounds 1/3/12 « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] in the same vein as silent cowboy (here), in which the first element functions as N rather than Adj, I now offer annual labiate […]

  2. The Ridger Says:

    I never really thought about it before, but “silent movie” is a retronym: one of those terms that are invented to contrast with a term (“talking motion picture”) that takes over (motion picture/movie/film), forcing the need for a more specific name for the original.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: