Bizarro compounds

The Bizarro from the 22nd:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

Interpreting N + N compounds can be the very devil, as I point out on this blog every so often, sometimes in connection with cartoons (where the possibilities for ambiguity are easily exploited). What to make of Girl Scout cookies (Girl Scout + cookies)?

From my 4/30/10 posting “Interpreting compounds” (about a Rhymes With Orange cartoon and the compound poodle skirt):

Noun-noun compounds are sometimes hard to interpret because the semantic relationship between the two nouns is so distant (canoe wife, for instance); you have to know a lot to supply the connection. Both Language Log and this blog frequently remark on such “distant” N+N compounds,

… Looking ahead to future postings, I’ll refer to distant N+N compounds as constituting a subtype of Type X composites. Ordinary N+N compounds are, in contrast, Type O composites, and the semantic relation between their parts is drawn from a relatively small set of relationships.

(That’s X for extraordinary or exceptional, O for ordinary.)

Three postings relevant to the Bizarro cartoon above:

from 9/4/11: Compare fish sauce, which is made from fish, with duck sauce and lobster sauce, which are sauces for [(flavoring)] duck and lobster …, respectively [Source vs. Use]

from 10/15/16, in a comment: Nice N+N compound, patron abuse, since it can be read either as a patient/object [call it Patient] compound ‘abuse of patrons’ (as in the unfortunately common compound child abuse) or as an agent/subject [call it Agent] compound ‘abuse by patrons’ (as in the example in the comic, or in family abuse).

from 11/20/16: My first guess at the meaning of the N + N compound mink oil was that it was (absurdly) a Use compound (‘oil for minks to use; oil to use on minks’), or possibly a Resemblance compound (‘oil that is like a mink’ in some way or another), but it turmed out to be a Source compound (‘oil from minks’). Ok, mink oil is a way to get the most out of a mink after you’ve killed it for its pelt.

The customer in the Bizarro expects either of two O-type interpretations: Agent (‘cookies made by Girl Scouts’) or Source (‘cookies made (out) of Girl Scouts’, ick). (There are other, less plausible, O-type interpretations: for instance, Use (‘cookies for using on Girl Scouts’) or Resemblance (‘cookies that resemble Girl Scouts’)). O-type interpretations are, in a sense, favored: people turn to them as their first hypotheses about the interpretation of a compound.

But it turns out that Girl Scout cookies is an X-type compound, though with Girl Scout understood as referring to the Agent in an act: the act of selling, just not the act of making. So it’s distant, but not very far distant; truly distant would be, say, Girl Scout cookies understood as referring to cookies that happened to be in the kitchen of a house where Girl Scouts were meeting.

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