Beheaded spots

In yesterday’s posting “The lost years for LGBT seniors”, about a Talk of the Town piece from the New Yorker, my attention was drawn to spot illustrations as a form of the cartoonist’s art and also to the term the magazine used to refer to a spot illustration: spot, an abbreviated version of the N + N compound, specifically a beheading of the two-word expression, in which the head element illustration is suppressed. (This sense of spot seems not to have found its way into standard dictionaries, but the magazine uses it consistently, in every issue.)

Spot illustrations. These are small cartoon-like illustrations — like the one in my earlier posting:

(#1) John Hersey spot illustration

The magazine also uses more conventional illustrations, somewhat larger and usually colored, like this illustration by João Fazenda of Joshua James Richards (cinematographer for the film Nomadland) in the 3/1 issue:


Some other spot illustrations from Talk of the Town pieces in recent issues:

(#3) By John Hersey for “Sky Line Postcard” in the 3/8 issue

(#4) By Rose Wong for “Vaccine Yenta” in the 3/1 issue

(#5) By Rose Wong for “Swat Team” in the 3/1 issue

The style of the spot illustrations is pretty much constant across illustrators; I don’t think I could distinguish Hersey’s spot work from Wong’s or from Greg Clarke’s (in the 2/15&22 issue) or from Marie-Helene Jeeves’s (in the 2/8 issue), though there are no doubt small idiosyncrasies in the styles of each illustrator.

Beheadings. There’s a Page on beheading on this blog, with postings on the word-formation scheme

Mod + Head > Mod – conveying ‘Mod + Head’


Adj + N > Adj – conveying ‘Adj + N’  (nouning by truncation)
N1 + N2 > N1 – conveying ‘N1 + N2′

with examples like

Adj type: I love oral, but I don’t do anal [oral / anal sex]

N type: [a Mexican breakfast dish] with chorizo sausage and Chihuahua [Chihuahua cheese ‘cheese of the sort from Chihuahua state’]

spot illustration > spot is of the N type, and it turns out that there are several other lexical items that are also N-type beheadings. From OED3 (June 2016) on the noun spot:

I. 9. b. Billiards. With the. The white cue ball marked with a black spot (also more fully spot ballspot white).

I. 11. Building. Short for spot board (‘a flat board, often set on a stand at table height, on which a batch of mixed plaster, cement, etc., may be placed conveniently for transfer to a hawk or hand board’)

II. 21. A lamp casting a narrow and intense beam; a spotlight.

There may well be still other beheadings spot that are specialized or technical terms in specific contexts. The impulse towards brevity is strong, and the head N in Adj + N and N1 + N2 constructions very often refers to a genus of which the Adj or N1 picks out a species, so that the head is less informative than the modifier, hence more dispensable, especially in a specialized or technical context.

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