fish food, fish flakes

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange:

Hilary Price returns to the ambiguity of compounds every so often, and I return to the topic myself fairly often, noting that even if we set aside Type X, or “distant”, compounds (where you have to know a story about some situation to understand what the compound means) and stick to Type O, or ordinary, compounds (where there’s a relatively small set of patterns for interpretation), there’s still plenty of room for ambiguity. As here: food / flakes for fish (to eat) OR food / flakes (made) from/of fish?

An earlier posting (of 4/30/10) with a Rhymes playing with the compound poodle skirt:

Poodle skirt in the cartoon is just a Type O compound, but there are still several possible interpretations. The conventionalized sense is historically a resemblance compound (‘skirt that looks like a poodle’), but there are other possibilities: in particular, it could be a composition compound (‘a skirt made from poodles’), which is what Cruella de Vil [in the cartoon], with her antipathy to dogs, was hoping for.

Later, I looked at X sauce compounds:

Compare fish sauce, which is made from fish, with duck sauce and lobster sauce, which are sauces for [(flavoring)] duck and lobster …, respectively

Again, as in the cartoon, an ambiguity between source and use.

Now a note on flake in fish flakes. The general sense of the noun flake is:

a small, flat, thin piece of something, typically one that has broken away or been peeled off from a larger piece: paint peeling off the walls in unsightly flakes | flakes of pastry. (NOAD2)

But in fish flakes, we see a highly specialized use, which dictionaries have to list:

thin pieces of crushed dried food or bait for fish (NOAD2)

In any case, if you’re a fish the source reading of fish food / flakes is unpleasantly cannibalistic.

One Response to “fish food, fish flakes”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Presumably a poodle skirt could also be a skirt intended to be worn by a poodle (which certainly occurred to me before the “made of poodles” possibility).

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