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If I wanted people to understand that a werewolf hunter was a hunter that was a werewolf, but without that wording (hunter that was a werewolf is wordy), and without confusing someone else who might think a werewolf hunter is a hunter that hunts werewolves, how would I go about doing so?

How can I make terms like these less confusing?

Question kinda comes form here: https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/76125/what-werewolf-hunter-uses-this-equipment-crossbow-and-hat#comment158894_76127

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  • ex-werewolf "werewolf hunter"?
    – ermanen
    Dec 19, 2014 at 7:09
  • With regard to your final question, the term 'Homonym' describes two words which sound the same, however have two different meanings. I believe the usage can also stretch to compound nouns such as 'werewolf hunter'. Within the spoken context, placing the primary stress on either 'werewolf' or 'hunter' will alter the intended meaning.
    – Cellobin22
    Dec 19, 2014 at 7:46
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    @Guarin42 I'll correct myself. Always dangerous answering when unwell. From Wikipedia: 'In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but have different meanings.' I'd add 'and etymologies': convergent evolution. Polysemes are different senses of the same word. Divergence. Obviously, there is a single word 'werewolf' here with different attributive senses (of or by): we're talking polysemy. Dec 19, 2014 at 9:26
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    Why not label him as a hunter werewolf or hunting werewolf? That would be jarring enough to prevent the assumption, but concise and correct. Dec 19, 2014 at 11:05
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    Most words – in fact, when you analyse extremely carefully, all words (understanding being subjective) – exhibit polysemy. In a dictionary, homonyms are given as separate headwords, and major polysemes as different senses under a single headword. Dec 19, 2014 at 17:55

6 Answers 6

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Using "hunter" as your noun is what's going to cause the trouble, as placing a noun before hunter usually implies it is the object of the hunt (e.g. "crocodile hunter", "big game hunter", "bargain hunter"). This rule is only relaxed in cases where that meaning is obviously unlikely and the opposite interpretation is the one more likely to make sense (e.g. "female hunter", "American hunter"). You're not going to be able to coerce the meaning of "werewolf" into being a likely participant in a hunt, so you'll have to search for an entirely different formulation.

This problem always exists to some degree when using the noun form of a transitive verb in English with a potential actor as its preceding adjective; the degree to which it is misinterpreted is entirely due to its common uses and context. For example, "race car driver" is unlikely to be a race car who is a driver, while "cattle drivers" is a reference to men who drive cattle, but could be used in a fantasy novel for a group of drivers who were cattle. I don't know if there is a formal term for this type of construction.

This therefore leads to possible solutions for your problem: use a formulation that does not include the noun form of a transitive verb. Instead of "hunter", for example, you might use "detective" or "private eye", neither of which would cause confusion if preceded by "werewolf".

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  • Hmmm... I see I was being unclear. In order to use "participant in", I'd have to reverse "unlikely" to "likely". But doing so would have yielded a more easily understood sentence. Thanks for the suggestion; I'm not yet fully familiar with this software, but if I can edit the post I'll do so. Dec 19, 2014 at 9:26
  • The only problem with the last paragraph is the option of swapping out "hunter" for "detective" or "PI", which doesn't sound as right with Werewolf in front of it?
    – yuritsuki
    Dec 19, 2014 at 17:50
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As Mark Thompson explains in his excellent answer, werewolf hunter is a hunter of werewolves. I won't reproduce that.

However, it's possible to reverse the meaning by reversing the words and making hunter into what is functionally an adjective (an attributive noun): a hunter werewolf is a werewolf who is a hunter.

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Hunter-werewolf is not ambiguous. It means a werewolf that hunts, although it could suggest that not all werewolves hunt.

But werewolf-hunter sounds to me to mean only a hunter of werewolves. Just like a lion-tamer is a tamer of lions, not a lion that tames. But a tamer-lion is a lion that tames. In distinction to 'a tamer lion', of course.

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  • That's awful. Worth an upvote. Dec 19, 2014 at 19:54
  • i agree with this, but i think the hyphen looks weird. "It was a hunter werewolf" looks much more "correct" to me than "It was a hunter-werewolf". the hyphen (to me at least) sort of implies the creature is half hunter, half werewolf rather than a werewolf who hunts.
    – user428517
    Dec 19, 2014 at 20:04
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Use parentheses (or a delimiter) to introduce material(the race) serving to clarify the class:

hunter(werewolf)

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Maybe use an adjective before "hunter": During the time he was transformed into a werewolf, the lupine hunter was only vaguely aware of his nocturnal escapades.

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To remove the possibility of misinterpreting this ambiguous term, I would join together werewolf and hunter with a hyphen: werewolf-hunter.

In speech, the way that emphasis and tone of voice are used will disambiguate the term.

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  • Some people don't seem to like your modified icon. Welcome to ELU. Dec 19, 2014 at 10:02
  • @EdwinAshworth - It is apparently time to don my werewolf-hunter's hat again.
    – Erik Kowal
    Dec 19, 2014 at 18:41
  • Then you'll fall foul of werewolf-hunter hunters. Dec 19, 2014 at 19:51

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