"finesse", the adjective

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Aug 10 14:37:30 UTC 2012

On Aug 10, 2012, at 9:56 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> Miscellaneous thoughts:
> Ben should update his 2005 column to add soccer, where in contrast to
> football

or basketball

> or baseball "finesse" is I think always complimentary.
> One may not be able to say "The Japanese squad seems finesse", but
> then one is not able to say "The team seems finesse" either.  (I use
> the royal "one".)  So does the adj + noun in "Japanese squad" make
> any difference?

Apparently not.  I agree with your judgments, and indeed the fact that "NP seems finesse" sounds pretty bad regardless of whether the NP is "the team" or "the Japanese squad" was why I thought it wasn't an adjective in either case--certainly not in the former.
> "We are not a finesse team" *sounds* OK to me -- I add air quotes;
> but I'd prefer to *read* those quotation marks around "finesse".

For me there are no quotation marks there, in writing or the air.
> Similarly, if I had seen "a similar strategy by the 'finesse'
> Japanese squad", I would have been less disturbed, reading it as "the
> Japanese squad of finesse".

For me, "the finesse Japanese squad" would have the same meaning as above, a squad whose play is characterized by finesse rather than brute force or whatever.  Cf. "The finesse San Francisco 49ers were no match for the physical Giants".   (And yes, "physical" *is* an adjective.)
> I react to "The power American squad" in the same way as to
> "finesse", but with the added difficulty that I wonder whether the
> writer meant "powerful" instead.

But as noted, the meaning is entirely different--power teams or offenses may not be powerful, or vice versa, since "power" here, like "finesse", refers to a style of play, not the effectiveness of the playing.

> At 8/9/2012 08:37 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> On Aug 9, 2012, at 7:14 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>> > On Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 4:50 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
>> >>
>> >> An article in the Boston Globe today about the forthcoming US-Japan
>> >> soccer gold medal match says "In a tournament that has featured
>> >> extreme physicality, sucker punches and even head stomping, Wambach
>> >> doesn't expect a similar strategy by the finesse Japanese squad ...".
>> >
>> > Here's a Language Log post I wrote in 2005 about the attributive use
>> > of "finesse" in football and baseball:
>> >
>> > http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002677.html
>> >
>> Attributive use, yes, but in those cases of "finesse team" arguably
>> not "finesse, the adjective", given the oddness of ?"That team
>> really seems finesse", anymore than Ben's apt antonym for it, "power
>> team".  In Joel's example, though, it seemed to me, at first glance
>> at least, that "Japanese squad" is an adj + noun combo, and a
>> modifier of that would seem to have to be an adjective.  But on
>> second glance maybe not; Arnold would be our indigenous expert on
>> these matters.  The impossibility of "The Japanese squad seems
>> finesse" would suggest that in "the finesse Japanese squad" too
>> "finesse" is a noun rather than an adjective, but is "the power
>> American squad" even possible?  Note that this wouldn't mean the
>> same as "the powerful American squad"; after all, a finesse (and
>> hence non-power) team can be powerful, like the old San Francisco
>> 49ers from the 1980s, and a power running attack can be anything but
>> powerful, like that of last season's N. Y. Jets.
>> LH
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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