hedgehogs

In a sale on the Mental Floss site, this delightful t-shirt:

N + N compounds are notoriously interpretable in many ways, so they lend themselves to (perfect) puns, as here, where two different senses of hedgehog are both at play.

hedgehog-1: the prickly creature. From NOAD2:

ORIGIN late Middle English: from hedge (from its habitat) + hog (from its piglike snout).

At least historically, this compound is not subsective (this creature is not a hog), but resembloid (it is like a hog, in its appearance). And the modifying N1 denotes a (characteristic) location for the creature, location compounds being a common semantic subtype of N + N compounds.

In this case, it may well be that many speakers don’t treat the word as composed of two elements (despite the characteristic “compound” accent pattern of the word, with primary accent on the first syllable and a secondary accent on the second); instead, the word has become conventionalized as merely the name for a kind of creature, whose connection to hedges and hogs is no longer clear, or even relevant. That sort of thing can happen to N + N compounds.

(On the creature, with a photo, see this posting, from 10/23/13.)

hedgehog-2: something or someone that selfishly keeps all the hedge(s) for themselves. A novel, and semantically transparent, N + N compound, with the informal, slangy, N2 referring to ‘a greedy person’ (NOAD2), where this noun is related to the verb hog, itself a nouning of the ‘large domesticated pig’ (‘esp.one over 120 pounds (54 kg) and reared for slaughter’ — NOAD2) sense of hog and alluding to the conventionally ungenerous habits of these animals:

verb [with obj.] informal   keep or use all of (something) for oneself in an unfair or selfish way: he never hogged the limelight.

So the creature on the “Hedgehogs Can’t Share” t-shirt is a hedgehog-1 that is also a hedgehog-2.

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