In my last blog post I used hemicorporectomy (amputation of half the body) as an example of how affixes’ consistent meanings can help us decode an unfamiliar word. Indeed, unfamiliar words are sometimes more intelligible than entire sentences of common words. See for example this recent headline in Ireland’s Tuam Herald:
Headlines occasionally confuse readers by being elliptical or by taking the form of crash blossoms, but this one is something else altogether. Reading the article, I learned that County Galway had three acting dog wardens, then one died and another retired. The remaining warden is part-time, and cannot be solely responsible for handling the region’s stray and wandering dogs.
This explains the headline but doesn’t make it any less peculiar. Why not “One part-time dog warden not enough for entire county”? Though I’m posing the question, I’m not complaining. The headline delights me in its strangeness. When I first read “Half a dog warden”, I guessed the intended meaning after a moment’s reflection, but what initially came to mind was not a part-time worker but a hemicorporectomy.