Noun compound of the week

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Scientific writing is full of great noun compounds. My favorite recent example is part of the title of a paper featured in this morning's email from BioMedCentral: "Representations of odor plume flux are accentuated deep within the moth brain".

Odor plume flux turns out to mean just what you'd think: time variation in airborne smells. I look forward to using it in everyday life: "Mm, what's that delicious odor plume flux?"


  1. John Lawler said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

    Deep within the moth brain has its own special charm as well.

  2. Sili said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    Almost Doonesburyësque.

    Though I guess there was more room to navigate in Reagan's brain.

  3. Geraint Jennings said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

    Deep within the moth brain
    flutter thoughts of phonemes;
    a molten-feathered counterpane
    accentuates its own dreams

    as linguists lounge on pillows,
    sniff scientific writings;
    the plume flux fills and billows,
    airborne on soft moth wings.

    The moth brain mouths nouns softly,
    inflecting flickering sounds;
    and compound eyes gaze mothly,
    motley as compound nouns.

  4. Simon Cauchi said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    Don't go into a coffee shop that smells delicious from the outside. The coffee itself will be tasteless. The taste has all gone into that fluctuating odor plume.

  5. Eli said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    @Geraint Jennings:
    I just want you to know that you're my hero.

    On a different note, this reminds me of when my fellow linguistics students and a professor and I attempted to form the longest [sensible] compound noun we could think of without reusing words, and then tried to say it in one breath. It was something about vending machine repairman manuals… Ah, stupid linguist tricks…

  6. Dan Scherlis said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 1:22 am

    Being from Baltimore, I can't help but think of Druid Hill Park Lake Drive. ("There's the Druid Hill Park Lake Drive exit sign!")

    It was elided to roughly "Droodle Parklek Drive," out of necessity, I guess, and as consistent with the consonant shortage afflicting Bawmr, Merlin.

  7. Geraint Jennings said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 2:30 am


    Why, thank'ee kind Eli.

  8. Marinus said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 3:31 am

    The humanities have there fair share of these as well: systems collapse theory, folk psychology elimination literature, and so on.

    And you wonder why we who speak Germanic languages are so fond of compounds? In Afrikaans we have one which people try to add on as an occasional word game:

    meaning 'kaffir melon jam canners association meeting'. Kaffir melon is now commonly called 'matakaan'. To a native speaker this compound is perfectly easy to decipher (unlike some desperate attempts to add to the letter count). I'm sure there are longer ones somewhere. There are similar curiously long compounds in German and elsewhere, of course.

  9. Monte Davis said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 8:54 am

    It's the unstable ambiguity of some noun compounds that sticks in my ear, e.g. the old New England candy name "Squirrel Nut Zippers" (adopted in the 1990s by a band). My syntax processor keeps grabbing it at different angles, trying to find a stable reading, just as my tongue long ago kept trying to get the gummy bits out from between my teeth.

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