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Does the name Scientific American consist of two adjectives? What is the substantive?

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    There's not a requirement that any part of the magazine's name be a noun. "Hot", "Shoot", "Beyond" would all be perfectly fine magazine names. Any English word or phrase can be adopted as a proper name - at which time it becomes a noun when used in that context. Aug 4, 2012 at 3:23
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    Well. I cannot imagine a magazine in Russian with name being adjective.
    – Anixx
    Aug 4, 2012 at 3:47
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    Anixx: What, they don't have Cosmo in Russia?
    – J.R.
    Aug 4, 2012 at 11:34
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    Cosmo is named in English even if issued in Russia.
    – Anixx
    Aug 4, 2012 at 14:33
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    @Anixx: I realize that; I only meant to point out that the publication's title is an adjective, not a noun, so maybe that helps "a magazine with name being adjective" seem a little less strange.
    – J.R.
    Aug 5, 2012 at 2:29

6 Answers 6

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Scientific is the adjective form of science, and American is a noun meaning a citizen of the United States. The intended audience of the original Scientific American, first published in the U.S. in 1845, were people with either a professional or avocational interest in the many fields of science. If you fancied yourself a person of science, you were the target audience. The magazine today still boasts, "A third of Scientific American readers hold postgraduate degrees."

Also, the magazine was actively involved in the early patent process in the U.S., helping scientists and inventors protect their inventions and disseminate their ideas. According to the magazine's website:

In an era of rapid innovation, Scientific American founded the first branch of the U.S. Patent Agency, in 1850, to provide technical help and legal advice to inventors. A Washington, D.C., branch was added in 1859. By 1900 more than 100,000 inventions had been patented thanks to Scientific American... For a century, Munn & Company retained ownership of the magazine, which chronicled the major discoveries and inventions of the Industrial Revolution, including the Bessemer steel converter, the telephone and the incandescent lightbulb. Edison presented the prototype of the phonograph for inspection by the editors, and Samuel Morse, father of the telegraph, and Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine, were frequent visitors to the offices in downtown New York City.

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Both are adjectives, just as they are in National Geographic. Add the word Magazine at the end as needed for the sense.

The name of the publication in full is Scientific American Magazine. There is no reason to require one of the first two words to be a substantive; Magazine suffices.

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    The original name WAS The National Geographic Magazine.
    – bib
    Aug 4, 2012 at 0:07
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    @tchrist: If both words are to be taken as adjectives, wouldn't it be more natural for the title to be 'American Scientific Magazine'? Can't 'American' be taken as a noun so that the title 'Scientific American Magazine' describes a magazine that is for the scientific Amjerican? Aug 4, 2012 at 6:47
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    @Barrie: But it wasn't a magazine originally, it was a more of a newspaper (dig that cool ice machine!). I don't think "American" here refers to American citizens, I think it's an American journal about science and invention. Perhaps "Scientific American" simply had a nice ring to it?
    – J.R.
    Aug 4, 2012 at 11:31
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    The word Magazine has never been part of the name of Scientific American. Also, @Jim, that was the subtitle for the magazine (not the title). See this link to the magazine's website:scientificamerican.com/pressroom/aboutus.cfm
    – JLG
    Aug 5, 2012 at 1:58
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    In your link tchrist, the publisher is just differentiating the magazine from the other things they offer with the Scientific American name, such as their podcasts, newsletters, and online versions.
    – JLG
    Aug 5, 2012 at 2:07
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There is not clear-cut a line in English between nouns and adjectives. Nouns can generally be used attributively. Adjectives can often be used substantively.

"American" used attributively means "from America", and "American" used substantively means "(a person) from America". Semantically the difference in the case of the magazine is negligible.

Though only the founders or publishers of the magazine can say for sure, in my judgment the name simply means "(a magazine for) American persons who are scientific."

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  • Adjectives are always a kind of nouns so what's the point? / So does it mean "Scientific Person From America"?
    – Anixx
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:53
  • @Anixx I do not understand what you mean when you say "adjectives are always a kind of nouns". That is not true. Aug 4, 2012 at 3:19
  • Nouns are devided into adjectives, substantives, and in English also attributives.
    – Anixx
    Aug 4, 2012 at 3:39
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    @Anixx Although in Russian the usual classification as I understand is imjena prilagatjel'nyje vs. imjena sushchestvitjel'nyje, in modern English grammar it is not usual to regard these both as a type of imja. So we do not usually say that adjectives and substantives are both types of nouns. Instead we regard nouns and adjectives as separate parts of speech; and classify attributives, nominals, and predicatives as roles that may be filled by nouns or adjectives. There are other schemes of course. (Pardon my poor Russian, I am not fluent in Russian but know other Slavic languages.) Aug 4, 2012 at 4:20
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    @Anixx, You're mistaken. At first, Benjamin Fortson (2010) does not use the term "substantive". Secondly, he does distinguish between nouns and adjectives. The reason why he decided to put a section on adjectives into a chapter on nouns is because it's really short - two pages only!
    – Alex B.
    Aug 4, 2012 at 13:52
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MW defines the noun American as

1: an American Indian of North America or South America

2: a native or inhabitant of North America or South America

3: a citizen of the United States

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  • Does it mean "scientific citizen"? Can adjective "scientific" be applied to a person?
    – Anixx
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:26
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    I hate how lame MW always is. #1 is also a #2 native inhabitant of the Americas, conflating #1 and #2. The OED has 5 carefully non-overlapping substantive definitions, of which the last is American English. Not that the magazine is about language.
    – tchrist
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:27
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    @Anixx Of course it can. Like saying there are scientific Europeans and unscientific Asians.
    – tchrist
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:28
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    @Anixx Think of National Geographic: why would you need to construe the second word as a substantive? Think of Amazing and Astounding, or Cook’s Illustrated: just add the word Magazine and you’ll be fine. See my answer.
    – tchrist
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:43
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    @bib: instead of going to MW, try OneLook. That will give you some meanings on the right, plus links to several free online dictionaries on the left. Just because you don't have access to the OED doesn't mean you must "lapse to a base level" alternative.
    – J.R.
    Aug 4, 2012 at 11:08
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It doesn't consist of adjectives, it's a proper name. "Jack Handy" doesn't consist of a lifting device and an adjective. It's just a name.

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  • In "Jack Handy" the bouth nouns are substantives.
    – Anixx
    Aug 3, 2012 at 23:27
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I think the Russian equivalent of this title would be Научний Американец (non-linguist's transliteration--Nauchniy Amyerikanyets). Though I agree that a journal should not be required to have a noun, I also agree that a title that translated to Научний Американский would annoy me as well. Please forgive me if my Russian spelling is off. It has been awhile!

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  • Don’t mean to be rude, but Научний Американец as a translation of the journal title Scientific American is just a howler. This sounds profoundly unlike a magazine title to my ear (Russian is a language I translate from regularly). The Russian is В Свет Науки (In the World of Science), similar to the Polish Sviat Nauki (World of Science), and the German is Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Spectrum of Science). Aug 4, 2012 at 7:26
  • I'm overly intrigued by this question! I agree with Barrie that American can be taken as a noun, as I described above. In foreign versions of the magazine, the 'American' is removed, so I cannot determine the intent of the magazine, but the original title of the magazine is "Scientific American" without "Magazine". Irrespective
    – Mike
    Aug 4, 2012 at 7:27
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    I keep on thinking of American Pastoral, the novel by Philip Roth. Definitely two adjectives. It never occurred to me to wonder what the missing noun is. I’d assume it means: something pastoral in an American context. So, how about, things scientific in an American context? Aug 4, 2012 at 7:35
  • Thanks for reading my comment! I disagree that the intended use of 'American' was as an adjective, howevGraceer. So, you feel a more specific translation would be Научний Американский Журнал? I think it reflects the tendency of natives of the USA to reference the selves as Americans. Since the word American can have two meeni
    – Mike
    Aug 4, 2012 at 7:35
  • @Daniel Harbour American Pastoral is an analogous title in that Pastoral can be both an adjective and a noun. I assume the intended use was as a noun, but I've never read the book. A pastoral is "a literary or other artistic work that portrays or evokes rural life, usually in an idealized way." I would consider Thomas Edison a scientific American. But I don't know if Rufus M. Porter considered himself a scientific American. I suspect both of them considered their patents to be american. I don't mean to sound snarky with this response, just demonstrating the uses.
    – user24455
    Aug 4, 2012 at 8:29

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