A few days ago my wife and I visited some friends in the country. On one road there was a sign warning of log trucks. If a log cabin is a cabin made of logs, then a log truck is likewise a truck made of logs. Ummm, no … it’s a truck designed to transport logs. In fact, in some parts of the English-speaking world, such as Wikipedia, they are logging trucks, which term I had never consciously encountered. Compare a wooden truck, which is (?toy/model) truck made of wood, and a wood truck, which is a truck designed to transport wood.
English allows the modification of a verb by another verb, which I would call a noun modifier but which Wikipedia calls noun adjuncts and The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls nouns as attributive modifiers (p 537). The two nouns can have a wide range of meanings, but neither of those sources has a comprehensive list. Most of the time we have no difficulty understanding the meaning, but there is ample scope for ambiguity, eg a brick factory. (A glass house v a glasshouse (greenhouse) raises another issue, which I won’t go into.)
Some sources classified or classify noun modifiers as adjectives. They’re not – they can’t do adjective-y things like being further modified by very, making comparative or superlative forms or forming adverbs: *a very log truck, *a logger truck than the previous one, *the loggest truck I’ve ever seen, *The truck drove logly.
Other English phrases that might confuse the learner include “coffee cake” and “garage sale.”
This is why French makes the distinction by means of a choice ofpronouns: “de” vs. “à”. For example, there is a big difference between (to use a bad translation of “coffee cake”) “gâteau de café” and “gâteau à café”; one is cake made of coffee and the other is cake intended for use with coffee. I find this feature so useful that I even tend to apply it in English to clarify an otherwise ambiguous noun adjunct.
It is often a source of amusement to me in a hardware store (a store that sells hardware, not a store built of hardware) to see hand sanders. Are they for people with rough hands?
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I wasn’t familiar with coffee cake, but my older female relatives used to eat tea cake. Koreans eat green tea cake, which is a taste I haven’t acquired yet.
I also thought about cakes of soap, which are basically soap. Google shows me that soap cakes are either soap which looks like a cake or cakes which look like soap. One of the those should possibly be a cake soap (compare also a soap of cake). I’m confused now.
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