fish nipples, rejumpification, & big hair

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Sun Feb 13 17:55:19 UTC 2000

In a message dated 2/13/2000 8:40:08 AM, preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU writes:

<< I catch you drift pardner. But I assume that "hair day," "bad hair," and
"bad hair day" (and other "derivatives") are all fair game for dating
because of their "special" collocational senses or even "frequency." You
have perhaps done the same for "aardvark foreskin," although it is my
personal hope that it does not catch on.>>

Fish nipples! Chomsky variationism! A number of people have been asserting
(for weeks now, it seems) that "hair day" has no special, compound-like
meaning for them (indeed, Mark suggested that it had no meaning at all,
though he seems to have withdrawn that assertion in his last posting).
Indeed, nobody seems to have asserted that "hair day" is a compound.  So, if
(as everyone--but maybe DInIs--agrees) "hair day" is just a
construction--like "aardvark foreskin" or "radish salad" or "[I am having a]
bad computer day" or "[I am having a heavy] e-mail day" or "[In New
Hampshire, Governor Bush had an] upsetting voting day"--there is no very
meaningful way in which one can question when "hair day" came into the

and db.list at BYU.EDU writes:

<<I'll let others be vocally astonished at unwillingness to even look at

attestations of forms, but i will note that i just got back from teaching my

introductory linguistics class their first class on morphology, and the

class got to come up with a bunch of words that have "been there all

along"--'rejumpification' being one of the best. Of course,

'rejumpification' doesn't occur as an English word--just because something

*can* occur doesn't mean it *does*.

     I ask again--which is attested first: '[unmodified] hair day' or

hair day'?>>

Again, I apologize for not writing more clearly. I am not unwilling to look
at the attestation of forms, provided that there is some meaningful reason to
do so. What I am arguing is that there is nothing to be gained by attempting
to seek a date for a nonopaque grammatical construction <db.list at BYU.EDU>
cites a putative word--"rejumpification"--and argues that if it ever were to
come into English, the date of its entry would be noteworthy. By and large I
agree--however, the example is not relevant to my argument about "hair day,"
which is not a word but a low-level grammatical construction with a totally
transparent meaning (cf. "garbage day," "vacation day," "work day," etc.--an
endless list) as opposed to "birthday" and "holiday" which are clearly
compounds (and have morphologically opaque meanings). Dictionaries avoid
listing constructions like "garbage day" (or, say, "car door" or "bedroom
door" or "bathroom door"--or "aardvark foreskin" or "fish nipples") if their
meaning is transparent and their appearance in the language is governed only
by the fact that somebody might have a reason to say them. For that matter,
most dictionaries will not list "rejump," either: even though it is a
perfectly acceptable English word, its meaning is totally transparent (and
the question of its date of first usage in English is relatively
meaningless--or at least uninteresting).

Early instances of "[unmodified] hair day"? It is not at all difficult to
imagine Abraham Lincoln 's barber saying to him, "Don't forget, Abe, that
next Tuesday is hair day--be in my chair at 8 a.m. if you want to look nice
for the theatre." It is not difficult to imagine Congress in 1947 declaring
July 1 to be National Hair Day. There is not much point in searching for
examples that one is pretty sure to find (or even if they didn't occur, the
absence is merely historical accident, like the possible absence of "aardvark
foreskin" or "camel spitoon").

If one wants to argue that "hair day" is not entirely opaque and has begun to
take on some of the linguistic features of a compound, then the question of
the first use of "hair day" becomes meaningful. So far, though, nobody has
made that argument, and I don't really expect that anyone will.

By the way, here in the South the compound-like "big hair" is a lot more
commonplace than "bad hair."

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