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The Rise of Compound Adjectives Involving Postposition (‘food-insecure’ et al.)

The coming to prominence of the adjective as a part of speech in contemporary English is associated with the flood of items like the recent ‘food-insecure’ or the earlier ‘doctor-tested’ wherein a noun is followed by a postposed adjective to form a (hyphenated) compound word deriving from a syntactic construction with different word order, as in “insecure as to food” or “tested by doctors.”

The prevalence of this type of compound adjective with an embedded adjective can be ascribed to the general avoidance—notably, in modern advertising language—of circumlocution, defined as ‘the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea; indirect or roundabout expression’. Advertising language always puts a premium on ECONOMY OF FORM in order to achieve concision and pithiness (‘catchiness’) in the service of its aim.

The incursion of linguistic gambits originating in the jargon of advertising says much about the nature of thought and discourse in the modern world as defined by the globalization of English as the contemporary lingua franca. This innovation is (nota bene) in perfect alignment with modern usage––unique to English––involving the verbs ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ in their transferred meanings, resp. ‘accept’ and ‘advocate’, imported from economics and the exchange of goods.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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