Sunday, August 26, 2012

Frozen yogurt with adjectives on top

Imagine you’re writing a description -- for a menu, say, or a shopping list -- specifying a certain sort of yogurt. The product is
Made from Greek-style yogurt
Vanilla flavored
Fat free
How do you list those attributes?

Since I think of “frozen yogurt” as a permanent compound, like “ice cream,” I would probably start there. “Greek yogurt” is a common compound too, but if I say “frozen Greek yogurt” I could be talking about plain old Greek yogurt stuck in the freezer, and “frozen yogurt” is not the same thing as “yogurt, frozen.” So I go with “Greek frozen yogurt.” (Or maybe “Greek-style”?)

As I pondered the next step, I went back and reread Neal Whitman’s post on the ordering of adjectives, which was entertaining and smart, but didn’t do anything so mundane as tell me what to do with my remaining adjectives. It seemed like a toss-up: “Vanilla” and “fat-free” are just about equally relevant and weighty, though I guess you could argue that “fat-free” is a more fundamental property of the foodstuff in question. So: “Vanilla fat-free Greek frozen yogurt.”

And why am puzzling over this? Because a headline in the latest flyer from Trader Joe’s advertises “Frozen Vanilla Greek Fat Free Yogurt” -- a sequence I would never come up with.

And on another page, there’s “Greek Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt” -- this time with the “Greek” before the flavor -- which I would render as “Strawberry Vanilla Greek Yogurt.”

For non-TJ customers, I should note that the store flyers are quite well written and edited; these labeling oddities (if such they are) don’t reflect any lack of skill with the language, just a choice that sounds foreign to me.

And you, dear readers? Where did you put those adjectives?


The Ridger, FCD said...

I'd say "Our vanilla frozen yogurt is fat free and made from Greek-style yogurt". (or possibly "fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt, made from Greek-style yogurt")

To my ear, the modifiers don't stack up nicely in front - "made from Greek-style yogurt" is too heavy, plus the two "yogurt"s sound silly if they're too close to each other.

djw said...

I suspect that one objective here was to keep the phrase as short as possible, but I do think "style" helps the meanin.

I'm not a connoisseur of frozen yogurt, though,so I'd have been fine with "frozen, fat-free Greek-style vanilla yogurt."

If I had to keep the "frozen yogurt" together, it probably would have been "fat-free vanilla Greek-style frozen yogurt" or maybe "fat-free Greek-style vanilla frozen yogurt."

But I'm not at all convinced the order makes much difference; "Greek-style fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt" works just as well to me.

I think the key would be the factor(s) the sellers want to captitalize on: are they trying to emphasize that the yogurt is frozen, Greek-style, fat-free, or vanilla? Any of those could go first, I think.

Gregory Lee said...

I'd like us to get away from the ideas that there is one unique English, one correct grammar of English, and that if two English speakers differ about the appropriate way to say something, one of the two must be wrong. While I am completely receptive to your characterization of "frozen yogurt" as a compound, for you, it's completely clear to me that in my variety of English it is not and that "frozen" is, rather, an adjective modifying "yogurt". If "frozen yogurt" were a compound, you could not have the order "frozen vanilla yogurt", because you cannot modify the second part of a compound in English with an adjective -- it would be ungrammatical. But that order sounds fine, to me.

So part of the explanation of the order variations you're interested in, I propose, is that for some English speakers "frozen" is the first part of a compound (for you, I guess), for others "frozen" is an attributive adjective (as for me).

I realize that it is very inconvenient for people trying to systematize, standardize, or describe English if there is no single language English to be described. I'm sorry about that, but I don't know of any reason that English should arrange itself singularly, for our convenience.

Jonathon said...

"Fat-free vanilla Greek(-style) frozen yogurt" sounds best to my ear, I think. There are some other variants that could work, but “Frozen Vanilla Greek Fat Free Yogurt” sounds crashingly bad to me. It's like they picked the order more or less randomly.

Bryan White said...

@Gregory: I agree that there probably isn't a single "right" answer to how the adjectives are arranged. There's obviously room for variation. However, I think Jan was making the point that frozen yogurt is a different thing entirely from regular yogurt which has been frozen. You say that "frozen vanilla yogurt" is acceptable, but even then it already starts to sound like someone threw a package of Yoplait in the freezer just to see what would happen. The problem just gets worse the farther you move "frozen" down the line.

It would seem, by the logic of what you're saying, that we shouldn't treat "fat" and "free" as though they were of a piece either. It could be, "Fat Greek Frozen Vanilla Free Yogurt."

There you go. That certainly isn't arranged for our convenience.

Marc Leavitt said...

I would take the cowardly path to avoid a crash blossom and write,
"Frozen vanilla yogurt. Greek-style and fat-free."

If I were looking for medals, I would write:
"Greek-style fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt."

If the column width and house rules didn't allow for the addition of "style" as a qualifier, I would write, "Fat-free Greek frozen vanilla yogurt."

Gregory Lee said...

Bryan writes You say that "frozen vanilla yogurt" is acceptable, ...

Actually, I said it sounds fine to me. To me. I was saying that a compound for some of us need not be a compound for all of us.

Bryan White said...

You know, for someone who has such a permissive policy on language, you're awfully picky about semantics. I knew perfectly well what you were talking about without the two us having to debate your meaning down to the closest micrometer of precision.

However, you still haven't addressed the fact that "frozen yogurt" isn't the same as "yogurt which has been frozen." This isn't the matter of language preferences; it's a fact. I actually worked at a frozen yogurt stand for a while when I was a teenager. I can promise you that we didn't create our product by just freezing yogurt. Frozen yogurt is a unique thing, of a piece, "a compound", you say. People can say "frozen vanilla yogurt" to their heart's content, but they have a far better chance of making their meaning clearer if they say, "vanilla frozen yogurt."

Would you, for instance, argue that "worn tire tread" conveys the same meaning as "tire worn tread"?

Bryan White said...

Actually ice cream is an even better and closer analogy. You have to admit that "ice cream" is a compound, right? "Ice" isn't just a way of describing the cream; "ice cream" is a separate and unique thing, right? And again, someone can say "Ice vanilla fat free cream", but there's no guarantee that they're not going to get a whole lot of confused looks from people who have no idea what they're talking about.

For the sake of...oh, I don't know, communication, we say "fat free vanilla ice cream" here on Earth, and we all get along just fine.

Gregory Lee said...

Bryan, if you follow the link that Jan gives to Neal Whitman's discussion of adjective order, you will see mention of "non-subsective" adjectives, which seems to be what you're talking about. It's very interesting, and I hope you'll feel free to pursue it. I was just saying that my own previous comment was about something totally different. A "compound" in English is not a certain kind of adjectival modification -- it's a kind of word-formation.

Anonymous said...

The online grammar site "Guide to Grammar and Writing" provides a paradigm titled "The Royal Order of Adjectives" Adjective order is classified so: determiner, observation, physical description (size, shape, age, color), origin, material, and qualifier. Here are some example sentences.

A beautiful old italian touring car.

Four gorgeous long-stemmed red silk roses.

Greek-style would be "origin," vanilla flavored "material," fat-free and frozen "qualifiers," and yogurt the noun.

Going by the paradigm, this is how the phrase should read: Greek-style, vanilla-flavored, fat-free, frozen yogurt. And that sounds pretty good to me.

Gregory Lee said...

On Anonymous's example A beautiful old italian touring car:

The determiner "a" is not an adjective -- it does not modify anything.

"Touring" is a noun and not an adjective, because "touring car" is a compound, not an attributive adjective construction. It doesn't mean "a car which is touring" (as it would if it were an adjective), but rather "a car for touring". If "touring" were an adjective, it could be modified by the adverb "very": *"A beautiful old italian very touring car."

Moral: You can't figure out what principles govern the order of adjectives if you can't tell which words are adjectives.

Bryan White said...

@Gregory: I assumed that you meant "compound" in the sense of a single thing which is designated by more than one word, such as "radio station" or "ice cream." In those cases "radio" and "ice" aren't merely adjectives, but part of the name of the thing. I was making the argument that "frozen yogurt" is yet another example of this - a single, unique, thing like "ice cream." Isn't that what we were taking about? If not, I'm very confused.

Gregory Lee said...

Bryan, the term "compound" in grammar refers to a word formed by combining two words. Entirely aside from any semantic considerations, if you have a noun phrase of the form: Determiner Adjective Noun, where Noun has the form: Word Noun, the innermost Noun cannot be modified by an Adjective simply because a compound is made of two words, and an adjective modifying a noun is a phrase, not a word.

Anonymous said...

To Gregory Lee: Yes, touring car is a compound noun. The site defines a qualifier as a "final limiter, often regarded as part of the noun (e.g., rocking chair, hunting cabin, passenger car, book cover). The site does not say where it got the "Royal Order" and it is merely providing a quideline for how to order adjectives. The site lists determiners and quantifiers as "words that precede and modify the noun". (The only reason I am citing this site is it is the only place online that I know of that has a model for "The Royal Order of Adjectives.")

I don't think you need to over-parse "a" for the issue at hand.

To your moral: no one is saying that this is "the" one and only way to order adjectives. Ms. Freeman posted a query about adjective order because some patterns appear to be substandard or clumsy, and the suggested model for ordering adjectives seemed hard to apply. No one would write "an italian old beautiful touring car," so there must be some (not a definitive) means by which adjectives are organized. Most people, most times will never have to consult an adjectival exemplar -- the word order just comes naturally. Even if someone does use such a model, they would never admit it in polite company. Do these models provide "some" guidance? Yes. Can you take these models and apply them uniformily? No, of course not. When I write something will I give even a second thought to the "Royal Order"? Again, no.

Finally what is and isn't an adjective doesn't really matter. What we are talking about here is a noun phrase and the "correct" order of the constituent "descriptive" or "limiting" or "quantifing" or "qualifiing" words that precede the noun.

Bryan White said...

@Gregory: You lost me in the hedges for a second, but I'm pretty sure that you just called "touring car" a compound a few comments above. So, a compound doesn't have to be one word, like "doghouse", right? It can be two words like "frozen yogurt", right?

Gregory Lee said...

Bryan, I did call "touring car" a compound, and I did say that a compound is a word made from two words. In the example, "touring car" is a word -- just one single word -- made up from the two words "touring" and "car". Is that a problem for you? If we count all the different words present in the example, I get 4 (including "tour").

Bryan White said...

Well, how is that any different from saying that "frozen yogurt" is a single word composed of two words, then?

Bryan White said...

In the meantime, consider this:

When I worked at the frozen yogurt place, the frozen yogurt was delivered to us in milk jugs, and was, in fact, not frozen at all, but instead in liquid state. Yet, the jugs were clearly marked "frozen yogurt."

At the other end, if a customer were to not finish their frozen yogurt and they left it on the counter and it was neglected for a few hours on a hot day, no one would dream of calling it a "cup of yogurt." they would call it a "cup of melted frozen yogurt." Now, if "frozen" was merely serving as an adjective here, we'd have some pretty absurd contradictions, right?

Bryan White said...

Furthermore, if someone at the frozen yogurt place were to turn the coolers to high and cause the frozen yogurt to solidify in the jugs, then the manager would probably come in the next morning and throw a fit about the frozen yogurt being frozen. In my world that's a serious problem. In Gregory Lee's world it's just a gross overstatement of the obvious.

Moral: don't go into the fro-yo business with Gregory Lee.

Nancy said...

I'm a copy editor for several food magazines, and I deal with this issue frequently when editing recipes, particularly when trying to come up with a generic description of a brand name product.

It's standard practice in recipe/food writing to just use the description that's on the food package itself (if there is one) rather than trying to come up with one yourself.

However, I would list this as fat-free vanilla Greek-style frozen yogurt: the fat-free coming before vanilla since a full-fat vanilla option could be available, and the "-style" is an important addition to differentiate between a container of fresh Greek yogurt that's simply put in the freezer versus a prefrozen churned product found in grocery stores by the ice cream. I end up overthinking these things a lot because it's got to totally clear to our readers who go shopping for all these ingredients.

I generally think of these issues as kind of like solving a math problem (remember things like 5+3x12-6/2=?), grouping similar terms and working from the inside out to keep the most important adjectives closest to the noun.

Nancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gregory Lee said...

Bryan, I have no problem at all with "frozen yogurt" being a compound in the English of Jan and Bryan. And if it's a compound, then it is a single word, because that's what compounds are -- words.

Bryan White said...

Ah, but see, that's just the thing.

In your first comment, You said that "frozen yogurt" might be a compound for Jan, but not necessarily for you. It might be for this guy over here, but not for this lady unless it's the third Monday in November on a leap year and so on.

But then, just a few comments later, you said that "touring car" was a compound, not just for you but also for me and the Man in Moon and whomever else it may concern, no if's and's or but's about it, not open to question, not up for debate. Then you smacked Anonymous across the face with your white glove and upbraided them for not knowing their adjectives from their elbows.

So the obvious question becomes: why is there such a free-for-all with "frozen yogurt" leaving it open to anyone's fancies or predilections, while "touring car" is set in stone, rubber-stamped and sealed by the official department of words and measurements, and signed in the King's own blood? Is there an actual difference between these things, or is it all just The World According to Gregory Lee?

Gregory Lee said...

There is a relevant difference in stress between "touring car" (the compound has highest stress on the "touring") and "frozen yogurt" (which has highest stress on "yogurt"), at least as I have heard them. This is relevant, because normally in a phrase, the end has the highest stress, while in compounds, the beginning has the highest stress. This singles out "tOURing car" as a compound. Unfortunately, this stress test doesn't always work to distinguish the phrases (i.e. non-compounds), because some compounds have end stress.

It is not 100% true that "touring car" is a compound. "TOURing car" is a compound, but "touring cAR" is a phrase, though you have to go out of your way to interpret it. Imagine a world in which cars are sentient ...

Bryan White said...

Yes, I was thinking of a car left to its own devices, taking in the French countryside ;)

empty said...

If iced coffee is made with French roast coffee, would you say "iced French roast coffee" or "French roast iced coffee"?

If ice coffee is made with French roast coffee, would you say "ice French roast coffee" or "French roast ice coffee"?

Gregory Lee said...

"French roast ice coffee", in my opinion, which is a noun made up entirely from 6 nouns: [[[French][roast]] [[ice][coffee]]], enclosing each noun in brackets. "Iced coffee" and "ice coffee" are just alternate spellings (since "t" is ordinarily lost from: long vowel s t before a stop, as in "roast beef"). I don't know how to tell whether "ice(d)" is a noun or an adjective.

Graham Strong said...

@Brian and Gregory and anyone else interested:

I agree that "frozen yogurt" is a compound similar to "ice cream". However, I do think that in this case, the "Greek-style" has to be added in the middle. Here's why:

There is no such thing as "Greek-style frozen yogurt" since the Greeks (traditionally) don't freeze their yogurt, and therefore do not have a "style" for freezing their yogurt. So in this case, the "Greek-style" has to modify the yogurt, not the frozen yogurt; i.e. "frozen Greek-style yogurt".

In total then, I would go with "Fat-Free Vanilla Frozen Greek-Style Yogurt".

Of course, these awkward grammatical contortions should be a big clue that you shouldn't be freezing Greek yogurt in the first place, never mind adding vanilla or strawberry...


Damnjoe said...

I think you are completely right, Greek should go before "fat-free" and "frozen yogurt" should be together, though Graham Strong has a good argument too. But I can think of two possible reasons why Trader Joe's might have switched them.

One, because in long lists of adjectives for a single noun (which aren't very common in everyday English), we might tend to lose the hierarchy with more than 2 adjectives. In other words, maybe even native speakers make a lot of mistakes in long lists because it's too much to remember.

Two, being Trader Joe's, maybe they thought the fact that it is fat-free is more important to customers than it being Greek or frozen yogurt. Ideally, we put the most important adjectives closer to the noun, right? And maybe (and I might be pressing it here), "frozen" was first for the sake of labeling and making sure it gets in the "frozen yogurt" section instead of the regular section, as by alphabetical order. The same could be said about "Greek Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt," to make sure it gets in the "Greek Yogurt" section.

But I think the point is that this hierarchy of adjective order, though very set in English, can be fairly flexible depending on what the speaker or writer is trying to say, and depending on the situation. But interesting what you pointed out, funny how confusing it can be even with native speakers.