A Word on the Words
THE old Sinatra song New York, New York popped up on my radio and the lyric: “These vagabond shoes are longing to stray” stuck in my head. Poetry put to music.
The idea of shoes as vagabonds, that they’d choose to wander as vagrants, slightly disreputable . . . the imagery is superb.
“Vagabond” can be an adjective, but these days (it’s a very old word) it is most often a noun.
It got me thinking about noun adjuncts – when nouns are used to modify other nouns.
This is common in the English language: engine oil, chicken soup, and sales performance will all strike you as familiar terms.
None of those words are adjectives. A chicken is, after all, a chicken. Solidly a noun. But it offers a description of the soup and doesn’t sound strange to the ear. Noun adjuncts can make expressive writing.
There is a strange quirk to them, though.
Sometimes, it is necessary to pluralise the first noun to get your full meaning across. Roads minister, for instance, wouldn’t be right as road minister. It sounds like he is in charge of one road.
But almost all noun adjuncts are intended as plurals. Engine oil can be used for more than one engine.
It is one of the oddities of the language that there isn’t a rule dictating when an S must be added to the first noun.
■ Sergey Gorshkov.
■ Tyohar Kastiel.
■ Klaus Nigge.