Monday, May 30, 2011

Power words and such

One of the hats I wear is that of chronicler of words pertaining to homosexual behavior and culture (see my Homolexis Glossary at This activity reflects my long-term interest in languages and linguistics.

Recently I have noticed the growing popularity of a particular syntactic gambit, that is, the habitual use of nouns as adjectives to the point that they almost amount to prefixes.

Of course, the rules of English grammar permit nouns easily to function as adjectives, as in the compounds "nation building" and "child support." In romance languages one cannot do this, cf. the impermissible Italian expressions nazione costruzione (which must be costruzione di nazioni) and aiuto bambino (which must be aiuto di bambini or aiuto infantile).

However, the implicit rules of the English language easily permit noun-noun couplings of this type, as I have noted. Some new coinages reflect changes in actual practice, as in the compounds "day baseball" and "adult bookstore."

Lately though I have noticed two prefatory nouns of this type which have become so common--so infectious, one might say--that they are almost viral. I refer to “power” and “mercy.”

For some time we have been hearing about power breakfasts, power foods, and power walking. More recently we have had the power lesbian (a prosperous, well-connected lesbian who only sleeps with other power lesbians), and the more jocular expressions power ass and power coma (when one sleeps for a long time). A power shit is particularly intense evacuation. A power douche is a truly unpleasant person, a douchebag to the nth degree. However, it is OK to be a power nerd if you remain popular, even while liking such things as Pokemon and Star Wars.

Particularly productive in this way is the word mercy. The expressions mercy killing and mercy mission have long been familiar. In sports, the mercy rule means that a match must be called off if one side is getting too clobbered for the event to continue safely.

Some of the more recent usages have to do with sex: mercy date (going out with a plain person to make the person feel better), mercy grope (allowing a brief touch from someone who seems to need the contact), and mercy f*ck (self explanatory). Sometime a college professor will give a mercy pass to a student who is so lazy he clearly deserves an F. In the drug culture, one gives a mercy hit to some schlemiel who is too poor to buy his own stuff.



Blogger Stephen said...

"Mercy f*ck" is not of recent coinage and most of the "Power-_______" except for "power lunch" don't seem to me to have wide circulation. But that English allows noun-on-noun mating is certain.

1:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home