Archive for the ‘Compounds’ Category

In the mail: an 8-noun pile-up

December 4, 2022

Remarkable e-mail. Two days ago (12/2), a message on Sutter Health’s My Health Online site with the header:

Sutter Palo Alto Center Laboratory Patient Experience Questionnaire

This is an 8-noun pile-up — not by any means a record, but definitely notable, and absolutely baffling as an announcement of a request for feedback from patients using Sutter Health’s services, in particular the services of the laboratory at Sutter Health’s PAMF Palo Alto Center (which I use with regrettable frequency).

I am now going to complain, briefly but with great feeling, about a range of things, starting with Sutter’s extraordinarily user-unfriendly, intensely corporate-oriented on-line interface. That 8-noun pile-up is fine for corporate-internal use in labeling its files, but it’s no way to get people to do a favor for you, which is what filling out  an opinion survey for them is.

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s posting “In the mail: the sleep of reason produces snowmen”, on e-mail announcing the holiday issue of the New York Review of Books. Just notes on stuff that turns up in my e-mail.

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Appetizer boards

October 25, 2022

A follow-up to my 10/20/22 posting “The Funny Aperitif Board”, with its entertaining word confusion between appetizer and aperitif — but now getting serious about the two categories involved in the compound appetizer board:

the foodstuff category to which appetizers belong (call it SMALL-START-FOOD);

and the implement category to which food-service boards and platters belong (call it FOOD-SERVER-THING)

I’ll put off the funny part — the (intentionally) phallic appearance of the appetizer board in question — for a third posting in this series, taking off from my 9/11/22 posting “Plush life” (with its distinction between four modes of phallicity). But before we go on to ransack the modern English lexicon, let’s stop to appreciate the inspiration for all of this, the Grassooze appetizer board, laden with meal-preliminary foodstuffs:

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Where to door knock and cold call

October 19, 2022

… and, eventually, how to abracadabra things out of sight. Yes, it’s Verbing Day on AZ Blog!

Politics and real estate: to door knock. It started on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on 10/11, with the cite presented here in its larger context:


(#1) to door knock / door-knock ‘knock on doors’ (in political canvassing): a N + V verb, whose origin lies in a back-formation from the synthetic compound door knocking / door-knocking

The semantics / pragmatics of the synthetic compound is specialized — not merely knocking on doors, but doing so in specific sociocultural settings (political canvassing and door-to-door solicitations by real estate agents, in particular) — and this specialization is shared by the 2pbfV (two-part back-formed V)

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On the interview watch

September 28, 2022

From recent American broadcast news interviews, yielding notable examples of familiar phenomena: the 2pbfV (2-part back-formed V) family-plan ‘do family planning’; and the phrase-final truncation of a formulaic expression, not give a rat’s ass ‘not care at all’, in the truncated not give a rat’s.

Both phenomena illustrate a drive towards brevity of expression (which makes life easier for the speaker), balanced against the hearer’s need for clarity of expression: to work out what the speaker intended to convey, the hearer must be able to supply crucial background knowledge (they have to know the compound noun family planning, with its specialized sense; they have to know the negative-polarity idiom (not) give a rat’s ass ‘not care at all’ and appreciate the zing in its vulgar minimizer rat’s ass), so the speaker must assess those abilities and craft their speech to suit their audience. It’s a complex dance, and like social dancing, it happens in the moment, on the fly, using practiced patterns while collaborating to make something new.

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Briefly: exocentric V + N

September 20, 2022

(Warning: a vulgar term for the primary female sexual anatomy will end up playing a big role in this posting.)

Where this is going: to an alternative name for an American President (#45, aka TFG); and to an alternative name for a classic American novel (by J.D. Salinger) — both names being exocentric V + N compound nouns, the first in English, the second in French. (I’ll call them exoVerNs for short.)

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Who will be this year’s Schützenkönig?

September 14, 2022

I now attempt to advance on the the topic of Knabenschiessen, roughly Boys-Shooting, my previous approaches to the topic having foundered on Monday 9/12, as feelingly reported in yesterday’s posting “Knabenschiessen!” (inspired by a Frank Yellin Facebook posting on 9/12).

The basic facts, as assembled in a compact Wikipedia entry:

Knabenschiessen is a traditional target shooting competition in Zürich, held on the second weekend of September each year [the 2022 event started on Saturday 9/10 and ended on Monday 9/12].

The festival, officially held for the first time in 1889, is one of the oldest in Switzerland, dating back to the 17th century.

The competition is open to 13- to 17-year-olds who either reside or are enrolled in a school in the canton of Zürich. Originally reserved for boys (Knaben), the competition has been open to female participants since 1991. The shooting is with the Swiss Army ordnance rifle, SIG SG 550. The competition is held in the shooting range at Albisgütli to the south-west of the city center, on the slope of Uetliberg [and is organized by the City of Zurich Rifle Association in Albisgütli.] It is surrounded by a large fair.

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Stilettoed on the balcony

August 3, 2022

The killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a targeted U.S. drone strike (taking him down as he stood on a balcony) over the weekend in Afghanistan was described by an MSNBC commentator yesterday morning as

a stiletto strike:  with the N1 + N2 compound N stiletto strike ‘sudden (military) attack resembling a stiletto (in being very narrowly focused lethal weaponry)’; the sense of the N2 strike here is NOAD‘s 2 [a] a sudden attack, typically a military one

Possibly it was stiletto airstrike; it went by very fast, I haven’t seen another broadcast of it, and it’s not yet available on-line, so I can’t check — but I am sure of the N stiletto and the N strike and the intent of the commentator to commend the pinpoint accuracy of the operation.

It seems that the metaphor has been used occasionally in military circles for some years, but very rarely outside these circles, so that it came with the vividness of a fresh, rather than conventional, metaphor — but while it worked well for me (evoking the slim, pointed, lethal daggers of assassins), it might not have been so effective with others, whose mental image of a stiletto is the heel of a fashionable women’s shoe (slim and pointed,  but alluring rather than lethal).

Yes, the two senses (plus a few others that I won’t discuss here) are historically related, with the dagger sense the older and, in a series of steps, the source of the shoe sense. But of course ordinary speakers don’t know that, nor should they be expected to (such information is the province of specialists, historical linguists and lexicographers); what they know is how stiletto is used in their social world, and that’s likely to involve trendy footwear rather than medieval weaponry.

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The pickle slicer joke The pickle slicer joke

July 31, 2022

On this blog, a Bob Richmond comment on my 7/29 posting “Many a pickle packs a pucker”, with an old dirty joke that turns on the line “I stuck my dick in the pickle slicer” — with Bob noting, “I’m sure Arnold can provide an appropriate grammatical analysis”. The hinge of the joke is a pun on pickle slicer, which is ambiguous between ‘a device for slicing pickles’ and ‘someone who slices pickles (esp. as a job)’. You don’t need a syntactician to tell you that, but what I can tell you is that this isn’t some isolated fact about the expression pickle slicer, but is part of a much larger pattern that a linguist like me can bring to explicit awareness for you, so that you can appreciate something of the system of English that you (in some sense) know, but only tacitly, implicitly.

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The compounds of commerce and the comics

June 3, 2022

A little study in N + N compounds in English, their great utility and versatility (they pack a lot of content into two-word expressions), and their consequent massive potential ambiguity (so that divining the intended meaning can require vast amounts of background knowledge and appreciating details of the context in which the compound is used). You can have (great) brevity, or you can have (great) clarity, but you can’t have both at once.

From the world of commerce, the compound dog spot (which many of us will not have encountered before, or will take to be a reference to the coat pattern of Dalmatian dogs). From the comic strips, two compounds that have conventional interpretations but can also be understood in fresh and unconventional ways: from One Big Happy, dancing school; from Bizarro, cowboy.

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Now serving at the Raven Cafe

May 11, 2022

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with the POP (phrasal overlap portmanteau) Edgar Allan Po’ Boy = Edgar Allan Poe (the American writer and poet) + po’ boy (the superb New Orleans submarine sandwich):


(#1) Edgar Allan Po’ Boy is a N1 + N2 compound N, understood as having the head, N2, semantically associated with the modifier, N1, by (the referent of) N2’s being named after (the referent of) N1 — parallel to the Woody Allen Sandwich (a tower of corned beef and pastrami) at NYC’s Carnegie Deli

(Plus the allusion to Poe’s poem The RavenQuoth the raven, “Nevermore” — in Grimm’s, “I had it once, but… nevermore”.)

If you were a betting person, you would surely put some money on this MGG strip as not being the first to use this particular POP — of course, that would be fine, it’s all in how you develop the joke — and you would win.

Just on this blog, in Zippy postings from 2016 and a Rhymes With Orange posting in 2017.

Plus bonuses: a texty with a pun turning on the ambiguity of /póbòj/ as either po’ boy or Poe boy; and two cartoons turning on Edgar Allan Poe / Po’ Boy understood as a Source or Ingredient compound (parallel to shrimp po’ boy) — yes, Edgar Allan Poe in a po’ boy, in it, good enough to eat.

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