Instances of unmodified hair-day

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Wed Feb 16 12:29:03 UTC 2000

Well, I had said to myself that I wasn't going to say any more about hair
days, since I thought it had become clear that there are some major
idiolectal variations, but I think Fred Shapiro's point about "satisfying
hair day" forcing the "hair-day" interpretation is a good one, and it got me
thinking that with the stress pattern that I use, and that I hear when other
people say "bad hair day", one could not naturally say the following:

* I'm having a red hair day
* I'm having a curly hair day
* I'm having a frizzy hair day.
* I'm having a staticky hair day.
* I'm having a blow-dried hair day.
(If you don't like the progressive there for some pragmaticky reason, then
how about "I hope that I don't have a frizzy hair day tomorrow.")

The fact that people use general descriptors (and not hair descriptors) for
their hair-days seems to me to indicate that they are understanding the
adjective as modifying "hair day" and not just "hair".

Undoubtedly, folks will say "but you CAN say 'curly hair day'.  Yes, sure
you can, but when you say it you're saying 'curly-hair day'--e.g., there's a
National Curly Hair Day.  But for me, in the way I say it and almost always
perceive it when being said, "curly hair day" has quite a different melody
than "bad hair day".

As for the personal differences amongst us in these interpretations, I'm
starting to wonder if there's a gender basis.  Both men and women are
claiming [bad [hair day]], but are only men claiming [[bad hair] day]?
Might be a difference in hair-attitude subcultures...


M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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