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In The Guardian today, Andrew Rawnsley writes that the Prime Minister would have a wafer and volatile majority. On the assumption that "wafer" here is not simply a misprint for "wafer-thin", what do we have?

  1. Has a new adjective has come into being -- "wafer" with the sense of "exceptionally thin"?

  2. Do we have a phrase consisting of an Attributive Noun ("wafer") and an Adjective ("volatile")?

  3. In the case of (2), is it legitimate to have a noun preceded by a phrase containing a mixture of an Attributive Noun and an Adjective?

I realize that at the moment, this is a single instance of the use of a word, but it seems to me to raise issues which are interesting beyond simply the example itself.

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    Yelp, too many questions at once. 4 and 5 are too broad and opinion-based, and I don’t get what you mean by “implications” in question 6. I would suggest limiting yourself to the first three questions (which are closely related and basically three aspects of the same question)—that would make an excellent question. Jun 11, 2017 at 16:20
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet -- done. Jun 11, 2017 at 16:47
  • And upvoted! A very interesting question. Jun 11, 2017 at 16:52
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    Are you sure wafer isn't wafer-thin in this case? Newspapers like shortening words. Unless the PM only has control over a wafer now... Jun 11, 2017 at 19:33
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    It was almost certainly "wafer-thin". "Wafer-thin, volatile majority" would be perfectly idiomatic.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 11, 2017 at 20:02

1 Answer 1

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This is not a particularly new use in discussing British government.

The 1970 book The battle of Downing Street says:

The wafer majority of his Government...

The 1976 book Walking on the water says:

When the dust had settled, leaving Harold Wilson with his wafer majority of five

The 1984 Pricing, Planning and Politics refers to:

a wafer majority of four parliamentary seats

But even earlier (1950) there is the term "wafer margin" in Best Sports Stories (reprinting the story "Homer by Henrich" Worcester Telegram 5 October 1949):

provided Allie Reynolds the wafer margin by which he bested Don Newcombe while 66,224 spectators sat on the edges of their seats in Yankee Stadium

(referring to the 1-0 win of the Yankees over the Dodgers in the 1st game of the 1949 World Series, due to Henrich's bottom of the 9th walk-off home run)

So, like these examples, in the OP "wafer" is an adjective and means "small" or "thin".

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    That suggests to me that "wafer" as Rawnsley uses it in the Guardian article is a contraction of the earlier, and more specifically parliamentary, "wafer majority". Or the insertion of "and volatile" into "a wafer majority". Rawnsley, whatever else he is, is pretty well read in the area, and would no doubt be aware of the examples you give above. Semantic evolution in action, yet! Jun 13, 2017 at 19:51

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