Shirtless hypallage

From recent postings on shirtlessness:

I didn’t find really stunning shirtless photos of them [Riley and Xander] separately, but I did come across a manip … of the two of them in carnal congress (link)

Shirtless photos of [Christopher] Reeve are surprisingly hard to come by. (link)

Tim [Lincecum] has a huge fan following, and others have scoured the net for shirtless photos of him (link)

Shirtless photos of X. Note that the photos aren’t shirtless, X is; the expression is roughly paraphrasable as photos of X shirtless or photos of a shirtless X. That is, the modifier shirtless appears in construction not with the N it belongs with semantically, but with a different N (in this case, the head N of the expression). This is the figure of speech known as the transferred epithet or hypallage, and we’re seen it before on Language Log and this blog.

(Many other head Ns would be possible in such examples: photographs, pictures, snapshots, images, drawings, etc.)

From “Extramarital toes” on Language Log 12/4/07:

The 1 December Economist entertained me by beginning a story (“Labour pains”, p. 17) on the latest British political scandal with a wonderful coordination containing a figurative surprise in the final conjunct:

As British political scandals go, this one is not particularly juicy.  No honours seem to have been sold, no politician’s Parisian hotel bills picked up, no extramarital toes sucked.

Well, no toes were sucked extramaritally; nevertheless, the reference to extramaritality is in an adjective modifying toes, rather than in an adverb modifying toes (were) sucked.  This is a figure of speech known as the transferred epithet or displaced epithet — or as hypallage

Then in “Mortal texting: framing, hypallage” on this blog on 11/8/09, the examples distracted driving and drunk driving. And in “Annals of hypallage” on this blog on 5/12/10, furrowed cast of mindErotic Arts and Crafts Fair, and erotic bake sale. In all these cases, the transferred epithet appears as an Adj modifying the head of the nominal — in a position of maximal prominence, emphasizing the content of the adjective. (In the shirtless cases, it’s the shirtlessness of the men that’s the point.)

Apparently similar to the shirtless cases are nude cases, for instance these from this blog:

Again, this is a cropped photo; the full nude photo [of Brian Krause] is #1 in my AZBlogX posting. (link)

Dieux du Stade … is the title of two books and several calendars and DVDs first published in 2001, featuring nude and semi-nude photographs of members of Stade Français, a Paris-based domestic French rugby team. (link)

Such cases are not as clear-cut as the shirtless cases, however. OED3 (Dec. 2003) treats two sets of uses of the Adj nude as involving just further senses of the Adj:

[1] Of a work of art, form of entertainment, etc.: involving or portraying one or more naked or scantily clad people; performed without clothing. Also of an actor or model: that performs or poses unclothed. [first cite 1869; examples: the nude drama, the full-length nude study of a nymph, a nude model who longs for true love, an impressive nude water ballet, those nude photos — note this last one]

[2] Of an activity: carried out without clothes on. Also, of a beach or other place: reserved or designed for nudists. [first cite 1884; examples: nude bathing, a nude sun bath, nude beaches, a nude dash up Grass Street]

For the OED, these senses are simply non-predicating uses of the Adj nude, and that was the treatment I gave nude beach in a posting on non-predicating adjectives.

Now, hypallagic uses of Adjs are of course all non-predicating. But the OED‘s treatment of [1] and [2] has them as conventionalized senses of nude, not merely as creatively figurative. It is, however, possible to see the OED‘s treatment as correct for the current state of the language, but as having originated in figurative uses of the word. That would make this case similar to other sorts of figurative uses of words that have become conventionalized.

Metaphor, in particular. Metaphors occur creatively in everyday speech and writing. Eventually some become “frozen” (and the perception that they are, or were, metaphorical dissipates in time).

My suggestion, then, is that [1] and [2] are frozen hypallages, and that shirtless in examples like the ones at the beginning of this posting is probably still hypallagic for most people — but it might be edging towards conventionalization for some, especially people like me who talk and write about shirtlessness a lot.

(And then there’s shoeless and barefoot, in expressions like shoeless / barefoot photos and shoeless / barefoot photography. Fair number of ghits — and images — plus websites devoted to shoelessness, especially of celebrities. OED2 treats shoeless as simply ‘without shoes’, just as it treats shirtless as simply ‘without a shirt’, and it gives no hypallagic cites for either one; but then these entries haven’t been revised for a very long time.)

2 Responses to “Shirtless hypallage”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Does “happy belated birthday” fall into this category? It is, of course, not the birthday that is belated.

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