That’s what was on the diner’s board giving the day’s breakfast specials a few days ago. How to interpret it?

The straightforward interpretation is that the listing is a coordination, with conjunctions or commas suppressed in the abbreviated written register of these boards; that is, what’s offered is


(1) a muffin, presumably what we know in the U.S. as an English muffin (a kind of disc-shaped bread that’s a standard breakfast item), though a cupcake-like bread (a corn muffin, say) is also a possibility; (2) sausages (pork sausages would be the default), either links or patties, fried or grilled; and (3) “eggs any style”, your choice (or possibly with a fixed choice, like scrambled). This is the obvious interpretation, but it turned out to be wrong.

Another possibility is that MUFFIN SAUSAGES is a N + N compound, either subsective or not. A non-subsective interpretation (a MUFFIN SAUSAGE is not a sausage, but perhaps something resembling a sausage, while being associated with muffins) takes some ingenuity to imagine — sausage-like links made from or of muffins? — and also turned out to be wrong.

That leaves us with subsective MUFFIN SAUSAGES: they’re sausages, associated in some way with muffins (of one type or the other). But associated in what way? ‘Served with’ would just give us an rough equivalent to the coordinate interpretation we started with, and I’ve already told you that’s wrong.

(At this point, I should note that for a diner-like restaurant, the Emerson St. (Palo Alto) Peninsula Creamery is given to inventive dishes, even at breakfast, so I should have asked just what MUFFIN SAUSAGES WITH EGGS were like. But I fell back on default understandings.)

If MUFFIN SAUSAGES aren’t sausages served with muffins, perhaps they’re sausages that resemble muffins, of one type or the other. Bingo! They’re sausage meat fashioned into cupcake-like muffins: sausages that look like muffins. Tasty but surprising.

(Note that one interpretation of SAUSAGE MUFFINS would pick out essentially the same foodstuffs as these MUFFIN SAUSAGES: non-subsective MUFFIN ‘something resembling a muffin’, associated with sausage by being made from or of sausage meat.)


  1. thnidu Says:

    And as I read your description of the muffin sausages, “sausage muffins” is exactly what I thought I would’ve called them.

    I was also prepared for an entirely different interpretation, but that’s another story altogether…

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Various other senses for muffin, among them: (a) widespread slang for vagina; (b) gay slang for young attractive boy; ( c ) on the newsgroup soc.motss, someone who reads the group but hasn’t yet posted (at least under their own name).

      Then there’s sausage.

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