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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Comments

Rick S

A few more exocentric VN compounds:
killjoy
?spendthrift
kiss-ass
hangdog
singsong
pinchpenny

And some that seem related, though they're not VN:
bootblack
do-little
?flapjack
speakeasy

Jesús Sanchis

In the post I read the following sentence: "These compounds defy the principles of modern syntactic theory". I think that the problem here is 'modern syntactic theory' and its 'principles'. It is not that these compounds defy any principles, I think linguists should definitely defy these supposed principles, e.g. the ones born in the context of the Chomskyan doctrine. In my opinion, most of what is said and written in 'modern syntactic theory' is rather useless in practical terms, particularly if one is trying to study the origins of human language. 'Modern syntactic theory' has more to do with pure logic and formal languages than with real human languages.

On the other hand, the idea that imperatives are a 'protolinguistic form' is not new. It is obvious, and common sense.

Slawomir Wacewicz

My gut reaction is to agree with Mr Sanchis' post above.
One more comment that immediately springs to mind is that while exocentric VN compounds may be simple syntactically, *conceptually* they seem to be quite elaborate - certainly not like something we'd expect in protolanguage.
I still think it was an excellent presentation, but I disagree with the conclusions.

Dave Timpe

English isn't a terribly good language to test this in, since it lacks clearly defined forms that identify such things as verbs, let alone imperatives. In any event, couldn't "pickpocket" be analyzed as shorthand for "a person who picks pockets"?
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BLOGGER: I used English examples for my mostly English speaking audience. Progovac gave extensive lists from Serbian and some Polish as well as a few English examples.

As for the revision of the pickpocket term—yes, it could be expanded to a person who picks pockets but we only know that because we know the word, but if we did not there would be no reason to favor that expansion over "a pocket that holds picks." The term is vague. (Progovac distinguished between between vague and ambiguous. An ambiguous term can be assigned various contradictory structures; a vague compound has no such structures to fall back on.) If you don't take syntactic structure seriously, it all sounds like the most absurd kind of nitpicking. If you do take it seriously, it's serious.

Ken Randall

The word "pickpocket" is not a "living fossil" since it is perfectly logical.

It is not a type of pocket since it is a description of the action, which has no physical reality.

The action is picking someone's pocket - perceived negatively by society and especially by the victim (presumably). For that reason the action is noteworthy (notorious) and has a name describing the action.

The other VN compounds cited at the end are the same - actions which have no physical reality, unlike a sandstorm, but which are viewed negatively by others.

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BLOGGER: Is it true that the action of "picking someone's pocket" is transparent? The phrase strikes me as idiosyncratic in the extreme. The American Heritage dictionary includes as the 9th definition of to pick: "to steal the contents of," but the example given is "My pocket was picked." I don't know of alternate phrases: My cash register was picked; The food locker was picked. The bank was picked. I know the phrase "to pick a lock" but that means to open a lock, not steal it.

The Oxford English Dictionary does report that "pick" used to mean plunder and that later it became a euphemism for petty theft. Those usages were in the Middle Ages. Back in those days, by the way, people did not have pockets, but there was a term "pickpurse." One can imagine the humor of the coinage--pick an apple, pick a purse. Pickpocket followed that form, without actually making sense. Meanwhile, we still have people who steal purses, but we call them by the more syntactically proper, "purse snatcher."

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