Specialists in International

Slogan on the side of a DHL truck in Palo Alto:


The adjective international is serving as a noun here, conveying something like ‘international shipping’ or ‘international mail’ or ‘international delivery’. Informally, this is “nouning by truncation”, but the implicit noun head isn’t uniquely identifiable.

Two pieces of background here: on “nouning by truncation” and on the DHL company and its slogans.

Truncation. In my most recent truncation posting, I looked at extensions of the notion of “nouning by truncation” (social for social networking), in graveyard for graveyard shift, barking for barking madˆ: the general case is that a modifier stands for a whole composite (of the modifier + a head), and it’s not necessary to assume literal truncation. In the general case, we have a lexical item with the syntax and semantics of a composite, but with an implicit (rather than explicit) head for the composite.

Composites with implicit heads are sometimes fully conventionalized; the adjectve barking ‘barking mad’ thus merits its own entry in the OED and other dictionaries. But typically these composites must be understood in context, using background knowledge. Understanding the DHL slogan, for instance, crucially depends on your knowing what the company does; otherwise, the slogan’s inscrutable. Even then, there is some leeway in recovering the implicit head.

The slogan. There is a longer version of the slogan that’s somewhat easier to interpret. On the Brandhugger site (“For legendary brand quotes and slogans”), the entry for DHL includes this longer version:

When it comes to ground delivery and networks. We own the road. Your specialists in International since 1969. DHL.

Note that the implicit head is now considerably narrowed down — international in the slogan won’t be understood as ‘international relations’ or ‘international language(s)’, for instance — but is still not uniquely identifiable.

The company.

From Wikipedia:

DHL Express is a division of the German logistics company Deutsche Post DHL providing international express mail services. Deutsche Post is the world’s largest logistics company operating around the world. DHL is a world market leader in sea and air mail.

Originally founded in 1969 to deliver documents between San Francisco and Honolulu, the company expanded its service throughout the world by the late 1970s. The company was primarily interested in offshore and inter-continental deliveries, but the success of FedEx prompted their own intra-U.S. expansion starting in 1983. DHL aggressively expanded to countries that could not be served by any other delivery service, including the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, Iraq, Iran, China, Vietnam and North Korea.

It was then acquired by Deutsche Post. On the DHL name:

Larry Hillblom was studying law at University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in the late 1960s and had little money. He started running courier duty between San Francisco and Los Angeles, picking up packages for the last flight of the day, and returning on the first flight the next morning, up to five times a week.

When he graduated, Hillblom decided to go into the courier business himself. He found a niche that no other company was filling, to fly bills of lading from San Francisco to Honolulu. By flying the documents ahead of the freight they could be processed prior to vessel arrival and save valuable time after arrival.

Hillblom put up a portion of his student loans to start the company, bringing in his two friends Adrian Dalsey and Robert Lynn as partners, with their combined initials of their last names as the company name (DHL).

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