Column: Stalking Bigfoot and the adnominal snowman


My daughter has started roaming the streets looking for Bigfoot clues. According to her kindergarten classmates, Bigfoot only comes out at night, and that’s when he drops clues around the neighborhood. While on walks with our puppy, my daughter finds interesting rocks, oddly shaped pieces of mulch and even the occasional rusty shard of unknown garbage. All of these items are clues. My friend Byron (the conspiracy theory enthusiast) is thrilled by my daughter’s new Bigfoot obsession.

As a kid, I wasn’t as concerned about Bigfoot. Instead, I lost sleep over the Okie Ogre, a nocturnal monster who ate family pets and spit out their bones in the driveway. Was the Okie Ogre merely a freakishly large raccoon, or had the abominable snowman missed a left turn at Albuquerque? Was it even real? It’s hard to say. Perhaps I should have been getting ready for a yeti or keeping watch for a sasquatch.

It’s time to make a hard pivot from abominable snowmen to adnominals, or adnouns. No, these aren’t nouns you find in popup ads on websites; adnouns are adjectives used as nouns. While I’ve written before about the “verbification” of nouns; now we’re going to “nounify” some adjectives.

Here’s an easy example to understand adnouns: “…the land of the free and the home of the brave.” At the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (an unfortunate national anthem because who has that kind of vocal range?) we find two adjectives used as nouns. “Free” and “brave” stand alone as adnouns here.

In the “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Here again we see an adjective — the word “meek” — standing alone as a noun.

Most of the time you’ll see adnouns as a replacement for a group of people. Further, you’ll often see the word “the” in front of the group of people blanketed by the adnoun. We find this with “the rich,” “the poor,” “the blind,” “the elderly,” “the famous,” et al.

Some adnouns have become nouns in their own right. Two you’ll hear all the time in political discourse are “conservatives” and “liberals.” You can say, “I am conservative,” where “conservative” is an adjective. However, when you say, “I am a conservative,” the word “conservative” is an adnoun. At this point, the two adnouns “liberal” and “conservative” are so prevalent in political parlance that they are recognized as nouns.

Just like Bigfoot clues, once you’re aware of adnouns, you’ll see them everywhere. Just make sure they don’t eat your pets.