The most spectacular compound noun I've seen this week was in the UK free newspaper Metro, which I pick up on the bus in Edinburgh. I never read the celebrity gossip pages, of course. But I did happen to notice this headline on page 25 yesterday:
Amy husband bribery plot landlord cleared
That's a non-finite passive clause consisting of a subject, in the form of five nouns in a complex nominal construction, and one verb in the past participle form. Is the clause grammatical? One hundred percent, I think. Is it admirable style? Well, for a newspaper given away free on the 29 bus, maybe it's churlish to quibble about syntactic clunkiness. Non-clunkiness is not the central issue. The second most important desideratum for a headline is that it should make you look and perhaps read the story on the South Bridge before you get off at St Patrick Square; and the most important of all is that it should fit the column width. For this one they had 20 cm. Not enough room to add an apostrophe and an s so that Amy could be made into a genitive determiner. Referring to Fielder-Civil as Amy's husband would have been much closer to normal style, but they ran out of horizontal space given the prior choice of point size.
The story is about the acquittal of a pub landlord (James King) who was charged with participating in a plot to pervert the course of justice by accepting a bribe offered by the husband (Blake Fielder-Civil) of the accomplished and hopelessly drug-addicted singer Amy Winehouse. What kind of landlord? A plot landlord. What kind of plot? A bribery plot. Which bribery plot? The Amy husband bribery plot.
You're meant to know all about this plot already. It has been in and out of the newspapers for a couple of years. The odious Fielder-Civil and his friend Michael Brown attacked James King at a pub in Hoxton, in East London, beating him up badly enough to fracture his cheekbone. Then, when they sobered up, they set about bribing him so they could stay out of jail. Two hundred thousand quid — and as of today that's nearly $400,000. Probably Amy was to be tapped for the money, but it turned out that no evidence on that point was brought, which is part of why King was cleared of accepting a bribe. He said he was intimidated into dropping the charges. Well, they're not dropped now. Fielder-Civil and Brown face maybe five years in jail. Amy says she will wait for her beloved husband, though it has to be acknowledged that she spends much of her time in nightclubs, hospitals, clinics, and courtrooms, and very little time on stage or in the recording studio. The drink and drugs are wrecking her career. Right now the hot topic in the news is whether the doctors who have just diagnosed her with emphysema, and told her that continuing to smoke crack will kill her, will approve her leaving hospital to perform at the big pop festival at Glastonbury. But I never read any of this.
Anyway, it's only the first two words of that headline above that strike me as really unusual and not at all commendable style. It is really unusual for close and familiar relationships like husbandhood, wifehood, sisterhood, parenthood, being a body part of, and simple possession to be expressed with a modifier + head construction (Amy husband) rather than a genitive determiner + head construction (Amy's husband). But you can't ban proper nouns like Amy from being attributive modifiers of nouns: you can see proper nouns as noun modifiers in Apple computer, Beatles fan, Cezanne painting, Dilbert strip, Elvis impersonator, Jesus freak, London fog, Paris suburbs, RCA record, Toyota pickup… there are literally more cases than you can count (because new proper names are being made up all the time). And the semantic range is very wide indeed: put two nouns together and the meaning of the result can be almost (but not quite) anything you like. The Metro simply took that fully grammatical pattern and pushed it a couple of centimeters further than anyone would normally go, to save a centimeter and a half of column width.