Revisiting 18: hypallage in the garden

Photo from Andy Rogers on Facebook today, from a garden supply store:


Andy quipped: “So, what is “AMATEUR MULCH”, Mulch you don’t have to pay for?” — playing on the N/Adj amateur as contrasted with the N/Adj professional.

But, I protested, professional here is hypallagous: professional mulch is mulch used professionally, i.e., used by or made for professional gardeners; it’s the gardener, not the mulch, that’s (a) professional.

Background. From J.A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 4th ed. (1998):

hypallage (Gk. ‘exchange’) Also known as transferred epithet. A figure of seech in which the epithet is transferred from the appropriate noun to modify another to which it does not really belong. Common examples are: ‘a sleepless night’; ‘the condemned cell’; ‘a happy day’. It is a very common poetic device, as in these lines from Part One of TS. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Previous postings. Starting with this posting of mine on Language Log on 12/4/07, “Extramarital toes”, about the transferred, or displaced, epithet, aka hypallage, with reference to free-range mayonnaise, dodging narrow bullets, sucking extramarital toes.

Then a number of postings on this blog, for example on 11/8/09, in “Mortal texting: framing, hypallage”, about distracted driving.

The semantic opposition in Andy’s response. From NOAD entries:

noun amateur: a person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis.

noun professional: [a] a person engaged or qualified in a profession: professionals such as lawyers and surveyors. [b, the sense relevant here] a person engaged in a specified activity, especially a sport or branch of the performing arts, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

The opposition for these nouns — there’s a corresponding one for the related adjectives — turns on whether someone gets paid for some activity.

[Bonus digression. Sense b of professional is the one on which the sexual slang pro is based. From GDoS:

noun pro 2 a prostitute, male or female (abbr. is of professional woman, not prostitute) [1st cite 1937]]

A somewhat subtler variant. A different labeling for the very same product:


Again, the blend is not professional, the gardener using it is (claimed to be). But here it might be a bit easier to take professional to be a noun, rather than an adjective — to understand the label as ‘blend used by a professional’, with professional understood in the context as ‘professional gardener’.

One Response to “Revisiting 18: hypallage in the garden”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Having written this posting, today I posted to a friend’s Facebook page about persistent typos:

    I almost never get DWARF right on the first try; it’s always DRAWF (DR being a much more likely word-initial letter sequence than DW). This would be a minor affliction if I hadn’t had so many occasions to write about the “dwarf planet Pluto” (I typed that carefully, one thoughtful letter at a time).

    Yes, one thoughtful letter at a time. Then I saw that I had committed hypallage on the hoof.

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