I’m hard at work on my abstract for SHEL-9/DSNA-20 happening next June. I hope to present some of my work, mostly for the feedback and advice I’ll hear from the esteemed attendees.

In my 2012 dissertation, I discovered a sub-set of cutthroats that described cleaning products, all of which ending in -ALL. I don’t need to determine their membership for the abstract, but as a break I’m going to list the -ALL compounds I currently have, and all of the -NOTHING and -NOUGHT  and -LITTLE compounds. [and then suddenly…]

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October 30, 2014

in 2014,compounds,Words & Origins


By popular demand, here are the slides from my Ignite Portland 12 talk. I have to give extensive credit to my brother Connal for his help with ordering the slides, as well as making the graphs look incredibly slick. I also need to thank my mother for her endless supply of encouragement, and Robert for being my whimsical anchor.

Click here to see the slides in a new window: HUGHES IGNITE FINAL.

Video of my talk is now accessible here, through the Ignite Portland Youtube Channel.  I have also added it to an Encyclopedia Briannica playlist, where I will talk more about language topics just like this. Stay tuned.

What can I say? I’m proud of it.

EDIT: You can now get these slides, and more information on cutthroats, on my more respectable site,


November 15, 2013

in 2013,best post ever,career,compounds,Words & Origins

I’m preparing my IgnitePortland12 talk, and I was looking for an earlier citation for choke-sparrow, which is a kind of wheat that presumably chokes sparrows.  I found an entry in a Google Book called “The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volumes 29-30” from 1897, which is great for me. The magazine appears to include an adorably regional dictionary of Wiltshire from that time. Check out the entries surrounding choke-sparrow:


It goes from the vulgar to the festive in four entries, I love it. But I also found this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 2.19.46 PMI’m not sure I have anything intelligent to say about numfudge, but it certainly brightened my day to learn of its existence. I hope it’s done the same for you. Let’s all go on holiday to Trowbridge and complain about its excessive numfudgery, what.

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October 24, 2013

in 2013,compounds,Words & Origins

I have recently completed my master’s degree for Linguistics at the University of York. I am publishing the title and modified abstract for the 15000 word dissertation I submitted in September 2012 here as a reference for fellow linguists who may be be interested in obsolete English compounds and their link to language development. For any questions regarding the dissertation, Appendix A, or historical linguistics, please email: hughes.brianne at

=====ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃ =====

From Turncoats To Backstabbers: How Headedness and Word Order Determine the Productivity of Agentive and Instrumental Compounding in English

=====ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃ =====

Abstract: According to a study by Clark et al (1986), English-speaking children spontaneously create exocentric V+N (turncoat) compounds during the development of agentive and instrumental compounding. Historically, the turncoat pattern has low productivity in English. Appendix A (attached) is a chronological list of all of the known turncoat compounds that entered English between 1050 and 2009. Only two new words of this pattern have been created in the past fifty years: Xpel-air and Pesterchum.

Turncoat compounds are advantageous for children learning verb-object (VO) languages such as English and Spanish because the pattern mirrors the syntax. Forms which are simple and transparent in accordance to the headedness and word order of a language are productive for both children and adults. Patterns that are structurally unclear, or that conflict with syntactic features, will be abandoned.

The advantage of simplicity that turncoat compounds offer to children is outweighed by its unmarked structure and many semantic limitations. The synthetic N+V+er (backstabber) pattern, on the other hand, complies with the headedness of English, is not limited by semantic clumping or verb transitivity, and can describe neutral objects as productively as it can reductive insults. Backstabber compounds also flourish in West Germanic languages, which share right-headedness with English.

Turncoat compounds are memorable and evocative descriptors of objects and occupations, but because of their clash with the headedness of English, their productivity cannot be sustained. Turncoat compounds will never challenge backstabber compound productivity.

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October 21, 2012

in 2012,best post ever,career,compounds,dissertation,english,University of York,Words & Origins

LONG STORY SHORT: I was looking for citation dates for buss beggar (someone who would kiss a beggar) and buz-bloke (a pickpocket) in Teall’s 1892 book English Compound Words and Phrases, and I stumbled upon this entry:

You saw that right: buttwoman.

[and then suddenly…]

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August 7, 2012

in compounds,dissertation,University of York,Words & Origins

I’ve had turnsilver in my list of verb-noun compounds since mid-June, but I’ve never taken a close look at it until now, as I finalize my list. The OED has a very short entry about it.

 The OED definition says it may be a type of ‘local payment’, but the quotation seems to suggest that it is a service rendered for which the citizens must pay some amount. I note that turnsilver is worth less than cornage and seawake.

Cornage: 4 s, 6 d
Seawake: 7 d
Turnsilver:  1 s, 3 d

[and then suddenly…]

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August 6, 2012

in compounds,dissertation,University of York,Words & Origins

So I’m looking at verb-noun compounds in English for my dissertation, which are not the most popular patterns around. Endocentric verb-nouns show up every so often in swimsuit, hovercraft, and shakeweight, but there have not been any new exocentric ones since carrycot in 1943. Other exocentric verb-nouns include killjoy, pickpocket, daredevil, and breakfast.

We have so many other patterns that V+N is not really missed, but the old words we have from the pattern are so fun that I’m tempted to try to force a new one into the world, and put it on a t-shirt and wear that t-shirt to nerd events. More about that in Part 2. But first…

[and then suddenly…]


June 29, 2012

in best post ever,compounds,Words & Origins


I’m trying to figure out whether flapjack is an endocentric or exocentric compound. Flap is a verb, jack is a noun, and it’s a fun compound. If I can include it in my research, I’d like to. Is a flapjack a type of jack, or a thing (not a jack) that flaps jacks?

Flap from flapjack is listed in the OED under definition 4a. It has Germanic relatives.

— Do yourself a favor and act out the definition of flap as given above. Do it now. I defy you not to giggle while you do it. Descriptive words are amazing. You really get the feeling that you’re manhandling whatever it is between your hands. Wrestle it to the ground! Flap it!

[and then suddenly…]


May 25, 2012

in compounds,dissertation,food,sex,University of York,Words & Origins

So I’m looking at verb-noun compounds in English, and there are a number of endocentric compounds that begin with the verb blow. Blow comes from OE bláwan, and shows up in a lot of endocentric compounds, which makes sense, since it is a Germanic word. (Trust me on that.)

Blowgun (which comes from blowpipe), blowtorch (which comes from blowlamp) and blowfish are some of the common Modern English forms that use blow. Then of course there is blowjob, which my friend Jason thought up when I told him I was looking for verb-noun compounds in English. This tricked me into saying “Hmm, okay, I’ll look into blowjobs” in public. (Between that discussion and his political-ethical considerations about what makes necrophilia disgusting and illegal, “Hey Jason, how’s necrophilia going?” we seem to have conversations that are quite dangerous when out of context. But he’s cool. Check out his new vlog.)

Blowjob is first attested in 1961, while hand job (a noun-noun compound) first appeared in 1939. Both are American in origin (U! S! A!). Thus, it is very likely that blow job is modeled after the –job pattern of sex acts, rather than being independently created as a verb-noun compound.

And to top it all off, I found this little charmer with one citation from 1885… yes, it’s blow-cock. It really could NOT look more dirty if it tried, but apparently it is a boiler component. The definition even sounds like a euphemism…

So there it is. A dirty dip into etymology.

(All of the data from this post comes from


May 15, 2012

in compounds,sex,Words & Origins

I comply with the right-hand head rule. I am a good compound.

Hi there neighbor. I’m doing something about compounds in English and Spanish for my MA Linguistics dissertation, and I’m 2-weeks in, and already knee-deep in books and articles about Romance compounding, exocentric synthetic compounds in English, deverbal complex words and right-hand-headedness. It’s crazy-go-nuts.


Just today I was thinking to myself, “Brianne, you’ve really gone down the compounding rabbithole…” and I immediately responded, “RABBITHOLE! ANOTHER COMPOUND!!” And then the first Brianne shook her head.

I love compounds... and meat-flavoured crisps.

I’m learning some really interesting things that make me say “OH!” outloud in the quiet fairhurst building, (sorry fellow students), and I’ll share them when I have a more concrete direction that will make some of this preliminary research unusable, but for now this post is just a friendly resource for me to point new acquaintances to when I ooh and aah over compounds that appear naturally in conversation. Foolproof, handbook, footprint, pickpocket, straitjacket. I’m going to do this for the next 5 months…. at least.



April 29, 2012

in Autobiographical,compounds,dissertation,University of York,Words & Origins