Goobers

The universal English convention for adjective-noun compounds is to put the adjective first: hardware, nightstand, firefighter, etc.  Arachis hypogaea is a nut-like pea (or bean), not a nut of any kind, even though its growth habit is bizarre if not goofy.  Its correct English name, and I trust the extended RBC family will use it henceforth, is therefore nutpea.

You may now go back to whatever you were doing a moment ago.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

41 thoughts on “Goobers”

  1. Anyone who tries to put a noun in front of an adjective like that ought to be court-martialed by the Solicitor General.

    1. The heterodoxy of those two-word exceptions are highlighted by (i) the awkwardness of pluralizing them properly (ii) something Kleiman explained a while back: a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general is higher than a major general because the latter, originally sergeant-major general, was shortened as though the noun was where it belonged; linguistic instinct overpowering meaning.

      Now, let’s clean up those horrid Greek-Latin mongrels and say dicycle, and autokino (or ipsomobile)!

      1. Perhaps the source of all the jokes about and antagonism toward mothers-in-law is just the clumsiness of the construction.

  2. You may now go back to whatever you were doing a moment ago.

    Impossible. I will now spend the entire day trying to think of a counterexample – you know, what they have in the kitchen remodelling store.

      1. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN TRICK ME LIKE THAT, SCHWEINHUND??! DO YOU REALLY THINK I WILL NOT RECOGNIZE A SENTENCE FRAGMENT WHEN I SEE ONE????

  3. Let us, for all love, not quarrel over a kakonymous legume. As Stephen Maturin might have said.

  4. Wait, so everyone else here already knew that nutpeas aren’t really nuts? I know y’all are smart, but I have to call b.s.

    Besides, they really do *seem* more like nuts. So there.

  5. Not when the adjective is one of size. In my stove I burn a mix of pea coal and nut cole. Horseradish root is bigger than normal radishes. Horseflies, ditto, though that’s ambiguous.

    1. Why would you burn nut cole instead of eating it? Never heard of that one specifically, but all the brassicas are very healthy, and yummy unless you’re one of the genetic unfortunates who can taste the yucky ingredient in Brussels sprouts…

      1. The Brussels sprout thing raises a question: if P. Bosland can win an Ignoble Prize for breeding a heatless jalapeno, why can’t someone breed the yuck factor out of Brussels sprouts?

  6. This would have been a sensible concern, perhaps, had Michael not mangled the premise. In fact, there is no adjective in two of the three original pairs — fire-fighter and night-stand are two-noun combinations, much like pea-nut. Whereas an adjective-noun combination would certainly have been asymmetric, resulting, as MOH postulates in combinations that are formed in a particular order, the case is less clear when a compound involves two nouns.

    1. I think that Michael meant to say “modifier” rather than “adjective.” The noun “night” acts as a modifier of “stand.”

      Vee Nazis are very particular about grammar.

      1. What Eli said. Hotplate combines a plain adj with a n. Tinplate adjectivizes tin; modifier is the right word.

          1. In fact, this sort of noun modifying noun compound is pretty standard fare in any Indo-European language. You should try Sanskrit some time, if you want the most magnificent and florid examples.

  7. When there are strings of three words, the modifiers and the modified become unpredictable by rules of grammar and have to be determined by context and knowledge of the subject matter.

    A large hadron collider is a large collider of hadrons, not a collider of large hadrons.

    A large animal veterinarian is a veterinarian of large animals, not (usually) a large veterinarian of animals. No doubt size and strength are an asset, though, when dealing with steers and horses.

      1. That was supposed to be $1.79 apiece. I had to run out and get some dollar signs which were on sale at Staples this week.

      2. Some of these words, it seems, once took a hyphen, but the use of hyphens is not the same today (or, as they used to say, to-day) as in former days. I think that constructions like night-stand were common at one time. And the hyphen could make a difference in fundamental meaning. “One-night stand” was not at all the same as “one night-stand.”

        Who else remembers hyphenated constructions having declined in use over the course of time?

        1. no question about it. Everyone used to write ‘e-mail’ but I claim – based on my own experience – that the trend is to ’email’. Lots of other examples would occur to someone less lazy than I.

    1. In this classic (satire of a) judicial decision, the judge dealt with just such an argument:

      “Counsel finally submits that the word “small” in the title Small Birds Act refers not to “Birds”
      but to “Act”, making it The Small Act relating to Birds. With respect, counsel did not do his
      homework very well, for the Large Birds Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 725 is just as small. If pressed, I
      need only refer to the Small Loans Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 727 which is twice as large as the Large
      Birds Act.”

      The whole thing is worth reading: http://www.law.indiana.edu/instruction/lrw/common/Ojibway.pdf. (Author was Hart Pomerantz, a Toronto lawyer and comedian.)

  8. Speaking of edibles, everyone knows that some vegetables (culturally) are really fruits (botanically), such as tomatoes, corn, zucchini, etc. (Other vegetables really are vegetables, meaning, non-fruit parts of plats — roots, stems, seeds, and buds – such as asparagus, spinach, beets, etc.)

    But there is one fruit that’s really a vegetable. What is it?

    1. What is the botanical definition of a vegetable? I always thought it simply meant an edible part of a plant, hence included fruit.

      1. My old dictionary of biology has gone missing, but other dictionaries basically define a vegetable as a cultivated non-woody plant grown for food. This means plants whose upper parts die back to the rootstock after the growing season has passed. You can specify if you like that the consuming takes place during the main meal and not as dessert, but of course rhubarb pie is an exception.

        Or, as my very first dictionary, “A Hole is to Dig” said, “Mashed potatoes are so everyone can have enough.”

    1. Well, the sea anemone isn’t a flower, and the sea star isn’t a giant glowing ball of gas powered by fusion, so why pick on the sea cucumber? Have you ever touched one? They are really silky soft.

  9. I will suggest that if the adjective-noun construction is followed, there is already a name (YouTube link) for Arachis hypogaea meeting this standard, appearing in shortened form in the title.

  10. See, this is what delights me about the Turkish that I am (slowly, desultorily, badly) learning. Turkish is rigorously logical and regular. It’s not utterly and invariably regular; it’s not Esperanto. But even its irregularities are, for the most part, irregular in highly regular ways.

    There’d never be a need for this sort of thread in Turkish. If Y follows X, then X modifies Y, no arguments, full stop. If the Turkish for peanut were a calque of “peanut”, you may rest assured that it would be the equivalent of nutpea. As it happens, though, it’s a calque of the other English word for the plant, “groundnut”: yerfıstığı. Yer is (here) ground; fıstık is nut; the -ı at the end is a sort of reverse genitive that brings the second word into association with the first; and the -k- turning into a -ÄŸ- when it falls between vowels is one of those highly regular irregularities I mentioned.

    (Also, fıstık only means nut for a few sorts of nut, other sorts having quite separate and unrelated names of their own, and is so far as I can tell normally used only in compound or combination, so yerfıstığı for the peanut or Antep fıstığı, or Antep nut, for the pistachio. It’s a highly regular language; it’s not a simple language.)

  11. I think this bruhaha is similar to the fruit/vegetable one. Yes, a “fruit” is the ripened ovary of a flower, botanically speaking, but most people don’t speak about food botanically, but rather in culinary terms. Generally speaking, we eat, say, zucchini like other vegetables, with salty and savor flavors, not juiced or sweatened. So even though it’s botanically a fruit, in western cooking at least, we usually eat it as a vegetable.

    Similarly, a “peanut” is botanically speaking a pea, but, for the most part, in the West, we don’t eat them like we eat peas (but see the Southern delicacy of hot boiled peanuts). In their whole state, they are prepared and eaten as nuts, often along side them. That is, they are roasted and salted and eaten out of hand or backed into sweet goods. Culinarily, people think of them as nuts, and so the pea means “pea-like” and modifies “nut.”

  12. I think this brouhaha is similar to the fruit/vegetable one. Yes, a “fruit” is the ripened ovary of a flower, botanically speaking, but most people don’t speak about food botanically, but rather in culinary terms. Generally speaking, we eat, say, zucchini like other vegetables, with salty and savor flavors, not juiced or sweatened. So even though it’s botanically a fruit, in western cooking at least, we usually eat it as a vegetable.

    Similarly, a “peanut” is botanically speaking a pea, but, for the most part, in the West, we don’t eat them like we eat peas (but see the Southern delicacy of hot boiled peanuts). In their whole state, they are prepared and eaten as nuts, often along side them. That is, they are roasted and salted and eaten out of hand or backed into sweet goods. Culinarily, people think of them as nuts, and so the pea means “pea-like” and modifies “nut.”

  13. First of all, neither pea nor nut is an adjective (nor are night, stand, fire, or fighter). They are all nouns.

    As for peanut, it’s a nut that grows like a pea, in a pod. Yes, botanically it’s a legume, not a nut – just as a tomato, botanically is a fruit. But from a culinary standpoint, a peanut is a nut, and that is why the word is what it is.

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