The 1 December Economist
entertained me by beginning a story ("Labour pains", p. 17) on the
latest British political scandal with a wonderful coordination
containing a figurative surprise in the final conjunct:
As British political scandals go, this
one is not particularly juicy. No honours seem to have been sold,
no politician's Parisian hotel bills picked up, no extramarital toes
Well, no toes were sucked extramaritally; nevertheless, the reference
is in an
adjective modifying toes
rather than in an adverb modifying toes
. This is a figure of
speech known as the transferred
or displaced epithet
-- or as hypallage
pronunciation, think of allergy
I promised you back
that I would post on hypallage, and now I am.
Also back in April, Michael Quinion's World Wide Words
(#541) cited a somewhat different sort of example:
I was at a meeting on Thursday that
included a sandwich lunch. Mine was Italian Chicken, whose other
ingredients were Italian pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, freshly-ground
black pepper, and free-range mayonnaise. It was sad to think of those
cute little mayonnaises, running around unconstrained and happy until
it was time for them to join the rest of the ingredients in my sandwich.
That free-range mayonnaise would be mayonnaise made with free-range
eggs, which are in turn eggs from free-range chickens (NOAD
2 has both the poultry sense of
and the sense with
the adjective displaced from poultry to their product, eggs, but not of
course any senses with the adjective further displaced to foodstuffs
made with eggs). This sort of transfer, of an adjective "from
noun to noun", is sometimes taken as definitional for hypallage, as in
A transferred epithet or hypallage is
the transfer of an epithet from
one noun to another.
with the examples "restless night", "happy morning", and Thomas Gray's
"The ploughman homeward plods his weary way".
Strictly speaking, the transfer is not really from one noun to another,
but from one referent to another: an adjective that syntactically
modifies one noun is understood as applying semantically not to the
referent of that noun but to some other referent (one not necessarily
named by a noun in the discourse).
In any case, in addition to the "noun-to-noun" cases, there are also
many like the extramarital toes
example I started with, with adjectives interpreted adverbially.
Here's one that Marc Sacks posted to ADS-L on 30 July, from e-mail to
Internet Radio in the United States
dodged a very narrow bullet yesterday when SoundExchange, the thuggish
lobbying arm if the Recording Industry Association of America, backed
off on demands which would have virtually silenced this exciting and
original kind of Radio due to the imposition of a fee schedule which
was roundly, and rightly, criticized as excessive and unfair.
That is, dodged a narrow bullet
'narrowly dodged a bullet'. Larry Horn then said that he thought
of this as the "cocked an inquisitive eyebrow" construction (i.e.,
'cocked an eyebrow inquisitively'), and I supplied the technical
terminology, plus a reference to Robert A. Hall, Jr.'s 1973 squib in Linguistic Inquiry
transferred epithet in P. G. Wodehouse" (there's also Hall's 1974 book,
The Comic Style of P. G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse was fond of hypallage.
On 14 October, Larry added an odd example from Cris Collinsworth on
NBC, discussing a big fumble: it
turned the complete game around
'it turned the game completely
around' (or 'it completely turned the game around').
(Note: English has a class of adjectives understood adverbially that
aren't figurative, in expressions like previous president
'person who was
previously president'. There's no displacement here; these
adjectives semantically modify the nouns they are in construction with,
but in a more complex way than ordinary adjectives do.)
My interest in hypallage was piqued back in April by e-mail from Daniel
Hulme asking about examples like a
cold cup of tea
, which I took at first to involve displacement
('a cup of cold tea'). After further discussion with Hulme and
later on ADS-L, I concluded that cup
here is just a measurement noun, so that cold
is in fact modifying cup of tea
; it's hard to interpret a cold plate of toast
as 'a plate
of cold toast', because plate
isn't ordinarily used as a measurement noun.
Then came free-range mayonnaise, dodging narrow bullets, and, most
deliciously, sucking extramarital toes.
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 4, 2007 05:53 PM