bad-hair day OR bad hair-day?

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Jan 26 20:19:54 UTC 2000

Ron is right and wrong.

Let's stick with his 1=primary stress, 2=secondary, etc...

Most ((Adj+Noun) Noun) combos are 1-2-1 "big-dog show" = show of big dogs.
Most (Adj(Noun+Noun)) combos are 2-1-2 "big dog-show" = big show of dogs.

My stress marks are only relative; if you find some "3" rather than "2,"
that's not important. (I also know that neither is typically hypenated; I'm
just doing that to make sure my parsing is well-understood.)

Here's the problem. I believe that "bad hair day" is like the first
("bad-hair day"), but I pronounce it (and have nearly always heard it
pronounced) like the latter.



>nobody's called me on my homophonous typo below, but i think it's kinda cute.
>and I think Ron's right/write about the stress.  stress speaks louder than
>metalinguistic cogitating...
>Ron Butters said:
>> In a message dated 1/26/2000 4:29:05 AM, lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK writes:
>> << The argument seems to be what kind of evidence we can use to prove the
>> constituency of 'bad hair day', but I think Bob Haas might be write (if he's
>> suggesting as I think he is) that there's some idiolectal variation here.
>> Perhaps some people have parsed it one way and others the other way and so
>> the phrase means different things to different people.  (Hey, but my way is
>> the correct way!  Ha!) >>
>> This makes good sense to me. It is clear from this seemingly endless thread
>> that a minority of people think of "bad hair" as a genuine compound and a
>> majority see  "hair day" as just a noun preceded by a noun adjunct.
>>Since the
>> semantic consequences are virtually identical, there are rarely if ever any
>> envronments in which the competing analyses would come into conflict
>>(the way
>> that, say "good-time man" and "good time-man" could).
>> All I have been suggesting all along is that stress patterns tend to
>> how people parse such constructions. Take, for example, "good time man". To
>> indicate "good-time man," people tend to say (1 = primary stress, etc.)
>> "1good 2time 3man" or "2good 2time 1man." To indicate "good time-man" people
>> tend to say "3good 1time 2man". I have never heard anything but "3good 1hair
>> 2day", which suggest to me that most people parse it "bad hair-day" and not
>> "bad-hair day". Of course, stress in English is enormously complex--and
>> varies dialectally.

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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