Off with their heads!

Today’s new Page: an inventory of postings on the lexical process of beheading, which derives a noun ultimate ‘ultimate Frisbee’ (as in Sandy earned a varsity letter in ultimate) and a noun graveyard ‘graveyard shift’ (as in Terry has to work graveyard this week).

Beheading is a word-formation process with

input: a 2-part expression-type Z = X + Y, where X is modifier and Y is head, so Z shares various syntactic properties with Y (in particular, syntactic category and subcategories)

output: a new expression-type X, with the syntactic properties and semantics of Z

Intuitively, Z has its head Y deleted — Z is “beheaded” — with its syntactic properties (including category) and its semantics inherited by the remainder/remnant X.

The most common beheadings are of N-headed expression-types, Adj + N or N + N, but other types are possible (for example, Deg + Adj, as in barking mad > barking ‘barking mad’).

The Adj type: Adj + N > N ‘Adj + N’ (for example, crude oil > crude, #2 in the list below, and commemorative stamp > commemorative, #11 in the list below) is “nouning by truncation” or “conversion by truncation”. Many of the examples involve pseudo-adjectives — a particular type of non-predicating Adj, an Adj interpreted by evoking a N (commemorative stamp, for instance, is understood much like commemoration stamp, a N + N compound with the first N commemoration). The Adj crude (‘in a natural or raw state; not yet processed or refined’ (NOAD)) in crude oil is non-predicating, but it is otherwise an ordinary Adj. Finally, the Adj grisly (‘causing horror or disgust’ (NOAD)) in grisly details (the source for the derived N grisly in #13 below) is a predicating adjective (The details were grisly).

The N type: N1 + N2 > N1 ‘N1 + N2’, for example, (my) gut feeling > (my) gut (#19 in the list below)

Beheading is a lexical phenomenon, deriving new lexemes. It’s to be distinguished from the syntactic phenomenon of head ellipsis, an anaphoric construction in which the head N of an NP can be omitted when an antecedent N is available in the linguistic context (I’ll use a big blue pencil, and you can use the little red ___). And to be distinguished from another lexical phenomenon, clipping, in which a new lexeme is derived by phonological reduction (as in mathematics > math).

Now follows a list of beheading examples (from my files) not previously blogged about here (see the Page for the others).

1. sneak ‘sneak preview’ in OED2 from 1941 (sneak preview from 1938) N

2. crude ‘crude oil’ in OED2 from 1904.

Jim Landau to ADS-L 2/6/10: from The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the year 1863  New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1864.

One of the most remarkable features in the export trade was the rapid increase in the quantity of coal oil or petroleum

…The average price of crude was 30.4 cents.  This very large business has grown up in the three last years, and as the use of the article spreads in europe, it seems scarcely to have a limit to its future growth.

3. serial ‘serial killer’: (April 2010) common on cop/detective shows

4. processed ‘processed marijuana’:  AZ to ADS-L 4/16/10, from the 4/15/10 California Report:

Five years ago some outdoor pot growers in the area say they could command a premium of four to five thousand dollars per pound. This year prices for some high-quality grades have dropped to under $2000, according to interviews with 12 growers and a federal agency that monitors the marijuana trade. Mendocino County sheriff Tom Allman says he’s seen pot going for even less.

“The lowest price I heard that was this year, in 2010, was in Boonville, at $800 per pound. That’s rock bottom low,” explains Allman. Allman also says in some cases growers simply can’t get rid of their processed pot. “We arrested a man who had 800 pounds of processed. 800 pounds of processed. And we asked him, ‘What are you going to do with 800 pounds of processed? And he said: ‘I don’t know.” [The example isn’t so clear; it might be head ellipsis, anaphora with the antecedent pot in the preceding discourse.]

5. follow-up ‘follow-up appointment’:

doctor on a Closer episode, about a patient: I made a follow-up for him.

6. pulp ‘pulp fiction’, most commonly in pulps ‘pieces of pulp fiction’. OED3 (September 2007):

orig. U.S. A popular magazine or book, printed on cheap ‘pulp’ paper and typically lurid or sensational in nature. Hence, more generally: such works as a genre; any popular or sensational writing that is regarded as being of poor quality; pulp fiction. [clear cites from 1928 on, but earlier (of course) in compounds; pulp fiction, however, only from 1934; pulp magazine from 1928; pulp paper magazine from 1925; also pulp novel, pulp writer, etc.]

7. collateral ‘collateral damage(s)’: AZ to ADS-L 9/12/11:

On Sep 11, 2011, at 10:59 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

“Possible discriminatory effects on non-speakers of Welsh are justified as acceptable collateral.” Should be “collateral damage,” right? Or maybe I’ve missed the point. The context is a discussion – in English, of course! – of ways and means to increase the “pro-active,” so to speak, use of Welsh among ethnic Welsh in Wales.

We can exclude the financial sense of “collateral” here, which would make this an instance of “nouning by truncation”

Stand-alone uses of “collateral” (for “collateral damage(s)”) aren’t easy to search for, because of the financial noun “collateral”, but here’s one:

I don’t know the owner, but this car had OEM 19s. The Mazda next to it suffered some collateral in the form of scratches on the door. (link)

8. full frontal: Neal Whitman in ADS-L 9/12/11:

Including “full frontal” to mean a “full frontal nudity scene” (link)

This involves truncation twice: Once to allow “full frontal” to mean nudity; another time to allow “full frontal (nudity) scene” to be shortened to “full frontal”.

9. privates: AMZ to ADS-L 9/13/11:

On Sep 13, 2011, at 7:45 AM, Larry Horn wrote:

… that didn’t stop privates from ending up with two rather different meanings as a truncated convert.  Presumably context will disambiguate here, as they would be with “All the privates were on display”.

Even better: “His privates were on display”.

The two meanings Larry alludes to are, of course, “privates” < “private parts” (from Shakespeare on) and “private” < “private soldier” (18th century on), but OED3 (June 2007) has three more truncations: “private” < “private school” (British public school slang from 1925 on), “private” < “private ward” (colloq. from 1942 on), “private” < “private bar” (Br. colloq. from 1963 on, though that dating seems late to me).

[several of these uses are surely not perceived any longer as being truncations; but now:

Publics, Privates, and Kitchen Tables: a few editorial comments on how to think about the relative developmental powers of public schools, privates, and home schooling. (link)

10. N minority: OED3 March 2002: U.S. A member of a minority group. Usu. in pl.

1951   Jrnl. Negro Educ. 20 330   There are also other factors operating against discrimination..direct campaigns of some local civic groups to encourage the hiring of minorities especially in white-collar jobs.

1965   Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. 71 249   A white employer’s taste for discrimination may lead him to hire Negroes, females, and other identifiable minorities only at a rate sufficiently below the going rate for white workers to offset the price he places upon his taste for discrimination [etc.].

1976   Time 20 Dec. 11/1   He was worried about the need for new young blood in Government, for more women and minorities.

1985   Albuquerque (New Mexico) Jrnl. 11 Dec. a3/3   During the past year, UNM hired six minorities and 21 women.

1996   F. Popcorn & L. Marigold Clicking ii. 62   Twice as many whites as minorities owned them [sc. computers].

[OED treats minority in minority group etc. as an adj.; cites from 1919 on]

11. commemorative ‘commemorative stamp, coin, etc.’ in NOAD2: noun: an object such as a stamp or coin made to mark an event or honor a person.

definitive in NOAD2: adjective (of a postage stamp) for general use and typically of standard design, not special or commemorative. noun a definitive postage stamp.

12. Mark Mandel on ADS-L 4/26/12, bestseller ‘bestseller list’:

Turned around in under a month to meet public appetite, it will be followed tomorrow with the second and third books in the trilogy, which are already topping Amazon’s bestseller. (link)

13. Victor Steinbok on ADS-L 9/14/12, the grisly:

Heard in one of the Inspector Lewis episodes: “Let’s go down to the pub. I’ll give you the grisly.” The context makes it perfectly obvious that the implication is “grisly details” — or, in other words, the “run-down”.

14. dress ‘dress rehearsal’ N:

But he was so unsure of the [SNL] sketch at this point that he thought of cutting it completely and reassigning the bin Laden lines. “After dress, I said, “Maybe we should cut the piece out of the show …”
( “Spinning Gaffes Into Gags: Live From New York, It’s Debate Night”, NYT 10/8/12 p. A12)

15. facial ‘facial beauty treatment’ in OED2: a. orig. U.S. A beauty treatment for the face. Also in extended use. [first cite 1913]  b. More generally: something regarded as comparable to facial beauty treatment; a renovation, new look [first cite 1932]

16. golden ‘golden retriever’:

Muffin’s his dog – a big beautiful golden. (Law & Order episode seen in re-runs)

Goldens: Just another blog about golden retrievers (link)

17. elected ‘elected official’: Jon Lighter on ADS-L 4/29/15:

‘CNN: “Where are your electeds? …You have so many black electeds here.”

18. Mike Pope on Facebook 11/19/17: balsamic ‘balsamic vinegar’:

Spokesperson: It’s like Verizon is the oil and Google is the balsamic. (commercial for Verizon and the Pixel)

19. my gut [feeling]:

Detective: Tariq got a call or a text from somebody, and it was something that bothered him. That was my gut. (Chicago P.D. S4 E8, aired 11/16/16)

My gut is that you are asking for some trouble here, but I’m not really savvy enough to get into the details.  (link)

4 Responses to “Off with their heads!”

  1. Margaret Winters Says:

    Let me add an example, Arnold — French (and hence English) ‘route’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘via rupta’, a road (‘via’) constructed by breaking through some terrain (‘rupta’, past participle of ‘rumpere’ to break).

  2. Anna M. Thornton Says:

    Thank you for the wealth of examples! In Italian, we do this regularly to English loanwords that are N N compounds: il night < night club, il beauty < beauty case, etc. There are more examples in a paper by Irene Vogel

  3. H. S. Gudnason Says:

    Medical intake people frequently ask for my social, when they want my social security number.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The 19 sets of examples in the posting are just those that hadn’t already been blogged about; the Page on beheading lists all of the postings and the many examples covered in them; this use of social was one of the earliest I posted about.

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