Noun pile examples

In e-mail to me a few weeks ago, Dee Michel offered this example:

Air bag malfunction safety recall follow-up notice.

This is a noun pile (a.k.a. noun pileup) of length 7: definitely a good find, but not the record. And it’s surprisingly easy to parse (unlike some of the examples that have been reported on Language Log and elsewhere).

Noun pile examples mostly come from three sources: newspaper headlines (especially British ones), bureaucratic headers, as in this case, and labels. Three contexts where people try to cram a whole lot of information into a small space. (Often the result is ambiguous or hard to parse or both.)

I think that the topic started on Language Log very early in the history of that blog, in 2003, with Mark Liberman on “Calling all parsers” (here), which offered a length-6 plaque labeled:

Volume Feeding Management Success Formula Award

Later postings scaled up to longer piles — there are people who collect these things — and looked at those involving distant real-world relationships between the referents of the modifier and the head, requiring considerable background knowledge for the reader to interpret them. British headlines are especially given to such distant relationships (as in the length-2 canoe wife, here); when the two phenomena are combined, we get baffling sequences like

nude pic row vicar (link)


4 Responses to “Noun pile examples”


    i like the term for such nouns.

  2. Completism « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] There are some topics I keep coming back to, often with reservations about whether I’m just piling up more and more examples of familiar types and falling into the temptation to accumulate all the instances of this type — an impossible goal. In a few cases, I’ve asked people not to send me more data (I really don’t need any more examples of the snowclone The New Y, as in Pink is the new black) or to send me cases only if they’re especially interesting: for instance, two-part back-formed verbs (latest: to recess appoint, to pleasure read, to pinpoint-strike), portmanteaus (they tend to come up in all sorts of contexts; see mocktail, here), crash blossoms (in the last week, one posting on this blog and two on Language Log), and noun pileups (last posting here a week ago). […]

  3. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    […] the word hoopla; and the differences between ought, nought, and aught. Arnold Zwicky piled on some noun pile examples, while Arrant Pedantry considered comprised of fail. Seqsuiotica explored the word sketchy; some […]

  4. ‘Smuggle plot tomatoes’ and other distant compounds « Sentence first Says:

    […] who can fill in the story that connects the referents of the two nouns”. The sense of distance comes from the distant real-world relationships between the referents of the modifier and the head, requiring […]

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