Can I call a vacuum cleaner cleaner a vacuum cleaner?

This was written in a hallway. Can you help me dissect what's going on here, along with an appropriate response?

By dissect, I mean I'd like to identify what types of words we're dealing with here. Is "vacuum cleaner," as in the household appliance, a compound noun? If so, is the first word "vacuum" an adjective? What about the occupation of a "vacuum cleaner cleaner" - how would I classify these words? Also, does this sort of wordplay go by a specific name?

  • 1
    Why the downvote? There are plenty of questions about how Buffalo buffalo buffalo.
    – zahbaz
    Oct 8, 2017 at 4:07
  • I've never heard of anyone working as a cleaner of vacuum cleaners. Maybe such a thing exists in the industrial world.
    – Xanne
    Oct 8, 2017 at 5:11
  • 6
    If a 'vacuum cleaner cleaner' is a machine for cleaning vacuum cleaners, then the person who cleans the vacuum cleaner cleaner would be a 'vacuum cleaner cleaner cleaner'.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 8, 2017 at 5:47
  • The term for the playing with words exemplified by 'Buffalo x 8' is 'trivia'. Of course you can use 'vacuum cleaner cleaner', but it's obviously going to sound quirky. Oct 8, 2017 at 8:42
  • 1
    To be PC they probably want to be known as Vacuum Sanitation Engineers.
    – Jim
    Nov 7, 2017 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


A "vacuum cleaner" is often referred to simply as a "vacuum". So something that cleans a vacuum could be a vacuum "cleaner". But "vacuum cleaner" is also the name for the device you're cleaning.


What you've described is grammatically correct either way, but one sounds awkward ("vacuum cleaner cleaner") and one is ambiguous ("vacuum cleaner").

A useful workaround here: simply say "a cleaner of vacuums" (or "a cleaner of vacuum cleaners"). "Vacuum cleaner" is a fading usage, at least in my dialect of English (in Canada we are likely to just call it a "vacuum"), but enough use the compound that it is confusing to employ it for any other usage.

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