"Word" words?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Apr 26 02:52:51 UTC 2008

At 4:10 PM -0400 4/25/08, Wilson Gray wrote:
>When I lived in Los Angeles, I found that people found some such
>usages unacceptable. At the counter of a sandwich shop, for example:
>Yours truly: I'd like a tunafish sandwich, please.
>Counter man: *What* kind?
>YT: Tunafish.
>CM: [puzzled expression and tone of voice] Tunafish?
>YT: Yeah.
>CM: [puzzled expression and tone of voice continues]: Uh, what's a
>"tunafish" san ...? [Then, big, relieved smile as light dawns] Oh! You
>mean a *tuna* sandwich!!!
>YT [annoyed as hell and mumbling in anger]: Yeah. I guess so.
>And I neither kid nor exaggerate. I had to learn to give up my
>thitherto lifelong use of "tunafish" and start using merely "tuna,"
>after I got tired of being stared at by counter help as though I were
>ET. Like, can a person who normally uses "tuna sandwich" truly be
>totally discombobulated by the use of "tuna_fish_ sandwich," instead?
>Apparently so.
>One of the few pleasures of living on the East Coast is being able to
>use "tunafish," again.
Now that I think of it, "tunafish" and "tuna" are not quite the same
on the east coast either (just as Bolinger et al. would predict); no
"tunafish sushi" or "tunafish sashimi", for example.  And if someone
were to offer a sandwich of sliced seared tuna with wasabi
mayonnaise, say, that wouldn't count as a tunafish sandwich.  In
other words, tunafish comes from a can, tuna comes from a fish.
(Even if it's a tuna fish.)


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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