Instances of unmodified hair-day

Wed Feb 16 13:29:21 UTC 2000

>>> Lynne Murphy <lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK> - 2/16/2000 7:29 AM >>>
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...

I don't think this proves anything. Nobody says 'red hair day' or 'curly hair day' because even if you can easily imagine having curly or red hair for just one day, there's no value-judgment expressed. 'X hair day' preselects for some kind of positive or negative value. I could most certainly talk about having a 'frizzy hair day' or a 'staticky hair day', as well as a 'beautifully coifed hair day'.  On the other hand, a 'satisfying hair day' is well-nigh impossible for me unless I process it as a malapropism for 'satisfactory hair day'.

At the same time, I can see the [X [hair day]] analysis quite easily. Why can't you have a bad hair vacation or great hair commute? Forgive me if someone already made this point in the elder days of this discussion. I have begun to lose track of the the thread. (Where are Lachesis and Atropos when you need them?)

The melody as far as I can see is the same either way: 'pretty bath mat' and 'spinach quiche fan'  have identical melodies and stress patterns for me.

But in fact, I don't understand why one analysis or the other has to prevail for each and every occasion. Clearly, great hair can make for a great day, which is the whole point of the expression.  Why can't the structure go back and forth? Or even remain ambiguous at the point of utterance? Or maybe it's [bad {hair] day} -- that is to say, bad hair hair day with both hairs getting only one reflex on the surface.  And if this is stupid and unorthodox, blame my hair. At least for today.

Debbie Sawczak
Editor of Reference
Gage Educational Publishing
Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list