Friday, November 28, 2008

Annals of buttocks-grabbing, ch. LXXVI

From the folks* who brought you "Man throws ice, grabs buttocks on plane," another finalist in the Buttocks-Grabbing Hed of the Year competition. This one's also a grammar issue,** but it's a grammar issue of a different kind: The attributive noun modifier works correctly in "Hooters waitress" but not in "waitress buttocks." That's worth a little look.

Nouns go around modifying each other with abandon, but that doesn't mean they don't follow precedent. A "sailor suit" is something resembling what sailors wear: "Postcards carried his photograph, in a sailor suit or on a bicycle." It's not the same thing as the garb of a particular sailor:
Roscoe stole a sailor suit (from Macy's)
Roscoe stole a sailor's suit (while the Reluctant was in port)***

There are waitress shoes (shoes that waitresses wear) and waitress smiles (smiles that waitresses maintain). There may even be a condition called "waitress buttocks" (like "tennis elbow"). But the offense of sexual battery isn't about a condition; it's something that happens to a specific person. This guy isn't accused of grabbing a substance called waitress buttocks; he's accused of grabbing a waitress's buttocks.

Even in hed dialect, it's just as easy to do it right:
Police: Man grabbed Hooters waitress's buttocks
That's not necessarily a best solution. I'm not convinced this is a good case for detailing the substance of the offense, rather than the charge, and it seems unlikely that anyone would have seen a need to identify the restaurant if it wasn't a Hooters. But at least it's not a wrong solution.

* What is it down there in Charlotte anyway? Some particularly evil bit of malware triggered by the appearance of "buttocks" in the hed field?
** Belated thanks to q_pheevr of "A Roguish Chresthomathy" for a thorough explanation of the "grabs buttocks" issue, particularly the concept of inalienable buttocks, which should be its own Python sketch. To summarize without wading too deep into the thicket of bare-noun buttocks: Because body parts are "inalienably" possessed, the natural reading of the bare form used in heds is that the part in question belongs to the actor. So "man breaks leg on plane" would mean he broke his own, not that he assaulted a fellow passenger, and "man grabs buttocks on plane" ... you get the idea.
*** True, some of those occupational modifiers do take the possessive:

Do you still have that dream about Jamie Lee Curtis in a barrister's wig?
I don't know. Do you still have that dream about John Cleese in a sailor suit?
... but I think those are idiosyncratic, the way some colleges offer "women's studies" and some offer "woman studies."

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