alarm bell and nanosilver sterilisation

English allows premodification of nouns by adjectives and other nouns. There is theoretically no limit to the number, though there is a practical limit of approximately 7 plus or minus 2.

During the week, I noticed that one of the structures at my local railway station has an alarm bell, with a sign next to it explaining that it’s a lift motor room high temperature alarm bell, which makes perfect sense, though I wonder for whose benefit the sign is intended: the staff know and the public don’t need to.

A few days later my wife and I had lunch in a Korean restaurant. Chopsticks are sometimes given loose and moderately often in a long paper sleeve. Spoons are usually given loose, but sometimes have an irregular hexagon shaped paper sleeve over the head. The one on my spoon was labelled Nanosilver sterilization spoon wrapping paper ®, which makes slightly less sense. Does the paper accomplish the sterilisation? (Hansung Medical’s ‘Compnay History’ page focuses on medical sterilisation, not culinary.) The Korean, in smaller letters underneath, is a complete sentence, according to Google Translate ‘This spoon is sterilized by silver nano packaging’, which makes it sound as though the paper does accomplish the sterilisation.

Too many nouns in a row is often referred to as a ‘noun pile’. English tabloid newspaper headlines are often written in this style, for example ‘China Ferrari sex orgy death crash’. These are often discussed on Language Log.

(Notice that I’m caught between using ‘sterilization’ in quotations and ‘sterilisation’ in my own text. If only the rest of the world would agree with me!)

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7 thoughts on “alarm bell and nanosilver sterilisation

  1. In the headline above the column here, the words nanosilver sterilisation initially struck me as a new and novel way for sterilizing humans.That is, rendering them incapable of reproduction. I have no idea why that was the first definition of the word that came to mind, but it was. Indeed, the idea planted itself so firmly that, for a few moments, no other definition was even possible.
    Sometimes, especially when I am fatigued, that sort of thing happens to me.

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    • Sterilisation of humans isn’t something I think about, either, which is why I was especially struck by the oddness of that particular thought occurring to me so forcefully. Certainly, a a paper covered spoon would be among the last instruments one ought to connect to such a procedure.

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      • Locksley [aka Robin Hood], I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon! [later, to Guy of Gisborne] Because it’s dull, you twit. It’ll hurt more.

        (after running Guy through [with a sword]) Well at least I didn’t use a spoon.

        From ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’.

        In ‘Murder in the First’, Kevin Bacon’s character is on trial for stabbing a prisoner informer with a spoon.

        But sterilisation … umm, no.

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    • Well, ‘one particular politicians’s *father* didn’t deserve that approx 70 years ago, and sterilising ‘one particular politician’ now wouldn’t accomplish anything except excruciating pain. Maybe that’s the point. No names, now!

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