Can anyone remind me of the grammatical term for the apparent misapplication of an attributive adjective, as in the phrase "the naughty step" (where it is not the step itself that is naughty but the person consigned to it)?
It's a form of anthimeria, conversion or functional shift, though in this case it's a double case:
First the adjective naughty is used to form a noun, meaning those who are naughty.
Then this noun is used to modify a noun, much as an adjective would be, meaning something whose purpose is dealing with those who are naughty.
I can't think of any term specifically for an anthimeria that results in the same form, and since adjective → noun conversions are common enough in English, and noun → adjective so common as to barely count as conversions at all, even the double form doesn't strike me as that remarkable, compared to other cases.
There are two interesting features though. The first is that we can see it is being treated more like a noun-adjunct than an adjective by trying to use it predicatively:
Go and sit on the naughty step!
*Go and sit on the step that is naughty!
This also changes adjective order:
The wooden naughty step.
*The naughty wooden step.
We generally put judgements before material, and material before qualifiers or modifying nouns, so the former makes sense, but the latter suggests we are using naughty in its more common adjectival meaning, and the wooden step needs a spanking.
I don't know a single "technical term" for exactly this, but it looks like a "two-stage" process:
1: Adjectival naughty is treated as an adjectival noun:
an Adjective can sometimes function as a Noun; the young, the rich, etc. (the naughty [ones], here).
2: That "intermediate" noun form is then treated as a noun adjunct:
an optional noun that modifies another noun.
In short, it doesn't seem strictly correct to describe the process as "misapplication of an attributive adjective", because the original adjectival sense of "naughty" has already been supplanted by the derived noun sense before recycling as an adjective with somewhat different applicability.
Firstly the concept of intersectiveness should be considered:
From RE at Yahoo Answers [tidied]:
Intersective: Phrases like [blue suit] are easy to understand because we can intersect the set of blue things with the set of suits and get the set of blue suits. Such adjectives are called intersective adjectives.
Relative Intersection: Some adjectives, like [big] in [big mosquito] work differently. In this case, what we mean is "big for an X", in this case, "big for a mosquito". A big elephant and a big mouse are two very different senses of "big", unless we understand "big" as an adjective whose meaning is relativized to the noun or noun phrase that it's modifying. This is called relative intersection, and "big" is an adjective of relative intersection. Other examples are tall, good, short, poor, rich. This is a very typical kind of adjective.
Non-intersection: Non-intersective adjectives are adjectives that don't entail reference to the objects denoted by the noun. This is the case of adjectives like alleged and possible. If we say "The alleged thief arrived in court," we do not need to be talking about a thief. Likewise, if you are a possible candidate, that does not entail that you are a candidate. Being an alleged thief does not entail being a thief. By contrast, being a red wine does entail being a wine, and being a big mouse, does entail being a mouse.
Example: 'suspected' and 'possible' are non-intersective, because suspects don't necessarily intersect with the set of all perpetrators of the act that someone is suspected of committing, and possibilities don't necessarily become certainties.
(Question: why doesn't being a "big shot" entail being a "shot"? Answer: (which you should know) [big shot] is an idiomatic expression. It's not transparently compositional. It has a meaning that is different from combined meanings of its parts.)
Anti-intersection: [Anti]-intersective adjectives are adjectives that can't entail reference to the objects denoted by the noun and which in fact entail non-reference to the noun in question. This is best understood if we think about the phrase [a fake Picasso]. The semantics of [fake] are such that the phrase [a fake Picasso] can never refer to a real painting by Picasso. Such adjectives are called anti-intersective adjectives.
So 'naughty step' is an example of anti-intersection.
Another way to look at this is to consider that 'naughty step' has been used as a shortened equivalent of 'the step on which naughty pupils are condemned to sit'. The adjective is thus known as a transposed epithet.
The other way to refer to the peripheral adjective (it does not truly modify the noun it attaches to, ie refers to something other than the noun's referent) is as a non semantically-predicative adjective. Though there is an argument that it's no longer a true adjective ('a mere youth' = 'someone who is merely a youth' = 'a member of that group of not-yet-adults characterised by immaturity, both physical, intellectual ...).