Instances of unmodified hair-day

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sat Feb 12 14:23:11 UTC 2000


It is very seldom that "words" or "collocations" (as you describe them)
come from "new" rules (or even "new" subcategorizations of items). If we
followed your suggestions to the hilt, there would be no search for the
origins of these "words" and "collocations," while this seems to be the
major interst of many on this list. Although I am not a participant in this
dating game, the search, it seems to me, is for the origins of such fully
licensed constructions, not for "linguistic novelty" in any strictly
grammatical sesnse.


>In a message dated 2/11/2000 2:21:38 PM, db.list at BYU.EDU writes:
><< I may have missed it if it got mentioned earlier in this (interminable)
>thread, but is there any evidence of "hair day" being used *before* "bad
>hair day" (or perhaps "good hair day", if that came earlier)? If not, then
>maybe the ability to use "hair day" by itself is the result of a change in
>progress, with people like me not involved in the change. >>
>Well, golly, for the last two days we have been posting ordinary,
>garden-variety sentences in which "hair day" occurs without any modification!
>The point is, since such examples occur as the result of normal rules of
>English, one does not need to cite actual occurences to establish their
>authenticity. That is to say, neither "bad-hair day" nor "bad hair-day" can
>be thought of as "coming first" since they both necessarily have been there
>all along. The only thing that could be thought of as "recent" is the
>compound "bad hair"--since it is a word and not a construction.
>I mean, would it make sense to ask which came first, "yellow-cheese knife" or
>"yellow cheese-knife"? "sick-mother joke" or "sick mother-joke"? Etc. etc.

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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