fish nipples, rejumpification, & big hair

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sun Feb 13 22:52:17 UTC 2000

But surely hair-day does have this compound meaning (as various citations
have shown). In which case it is appropriate to ask when that collocation
came about (as one may not ask of, say, fish-nipples, since we know exactly
when it came into being as a nonce exclamatory expression).


>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though he seems to have withdrawn that assertion in his last posting).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."

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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