In a movie "Moana", there's this conversation between Moana and her gramma Tala:

Tala: When I die, I'm going to come back as one of these. Or I chose the wrong tattoo.

Moana: Why are you acting weird?

Tala: I'm the village crazy lady. That's my job.

I wonder why Tala said "the village crazy lady" instead of "the crazy village lady".

Usually, when a noun phrase has one adjective and two nouns, the order is "adjective + noun + noun" as in "crazy village lady". But here, the order is "noun + adjective + noun".

Is there any particular reason for adopting this unusual word order?

  • In this sentence, village is also acting like an adjective to modify the noun phrase "crazy lady", so although it looks like noun-adjective-noun, it's really more like adjective-adjective-noun. We call a noun used this way a noun adjunct. – stangdon Jan 24 '17 at 12:48
  • @stangdon In the link you provided, there's this sentence: I bought a new table lamp. There, "table" is a noun adjunct. Does that mean you can say I bought a table new lamp.? – JK2 Jan 24 '17 at 12:57
  • No, because "table lamp" is a single noun phrase, in which "table" functions as a noun adjunct (it's a particular kind of lamp - a table lamp), and "new" modifies "table lamp" (it's a particular kind of table lamp - a new table lamp). This is kind of like how in your original sentence, "village" is a noun adjunct that modifies the noun phrase "crazy lady". – stangdon Jan 24 '17 at 15:00

crazy lady in this instance is treated as a set phrase - a crazy lady is a slang expression for (at best) a woman who is somewhat eccentric, to someone who might have considerable mental issues. It's not uncommon to see the phrase hyphenated (crazy-lady), which might make things slightly clearer.

So the structure isn't noun + adjective + noun in this case, rather, it's adjective + noun - the noun in this case just happens to be a set phrase.

So the person in the movie is humorously stating her profession as the village eccentric, in the same way that one might be the village idiot, or the town drunk, to name a few similarly themed expressions.

  • So would it be wrong to say "the crazy village lady"? – JK2 Jan 24 '17 at 4:01
  • It wouldn't be wrong in a grammatical sense, but it wouldn't convey the same meaning, although it's practically the same thing. When you say "the village crazy lady", you're essentially saying "The village's crazy lady". Like the "village idiot" is the "village's idiot". It implies that there's only one person who occupies this position. When you say "the crazy village lady", the information you're expressing is that there is a crazy lady and she's from a village. Is she still in a village? I'm not sure. All I can say is that she's a village lady who's also crazy. – Joe Pinsonault Jan 24 '17 at 6:22

Continuing Mike's answer, and referring to JK2's comment, normally there is only one village "crazy lady", in the same way that there is only one village policeman or mayor (obviously a village doesn't have a mayor, but it would have only one person in charge).

On the other hand, there can be several crazy village ladies, or phrased another way, there can be several ladies in the village who are crazy. But only one of them will be the designated 'crazy lady' of the village.

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