Free Sex Pot Bust Rap – Introduction to Noun Talk [5000 views]

The title of this post is a real headline from the Berkeley Barb (many years ago).


It made quite an impression on me at the time though it’s not clear what it means. I believe it was a discussion of a marijuana arrest at a sexual freedom league meeting. It sums up a lot of what was going on in Berkeley in those days.

Other than that, what’s interesting is that it’s almost all nouns. In English any noun can be used unchanged as an adjective. This makes possible headlines consisting of nouns piled up together. Our title has a non-noun in it, namely the adjective “free”. But we can replace it with “freedom” giving

sex freedom pot bust rap

a perfect example of what I call “noun talk” (the name itself also an example).

UnknownIt’s amazing what you can say with just nouns, for example

Theresa May Surprise Resignation Shock


Max 737 Software Assessment Implications

Actually I made these up because modern headlines usually mix in verbs, adverbs, prepositions etc. But they’re easily altered to pure noun talk with its old fashioned tabloid-like flavor.

For example, this is an actual headline from today’s Huffington Post:

Trump Opens State Visit to Japan with Remarks About Trade Imbalance

This is easily expressed in noun talk as

Trump Japan State Visit Trade Imbalance Remarks Opening

Or another

12dc-westpoint-grad-mediumSquareAt3XRecord Number of Black women to Graduate west point military Academy


West Point Military Academy Black women Graduates Number Record

Now you can argue that “west”, “military”, and “black” are adjectives but they are also nouns – eg “Black is back” – so it’s all kosher.

How about

Brazil Subsidiary Awarded $62M In U.S. Farm Aid Is Sued Over Colorado Pollution
Easy peasy
US $62M Farm aid Brazil subsidiary recipient Colorado Pollution suit.
Student Journalists Expose High School’s Use of Prison Labor

Student Journalists High School Prison Labor Use Exposé

Here’s one that occurred as is as a Hacker News headline:

Blade Runner background wallpaper cyberpunk ambience website?

How far can you take this? How much can you say in noun talk? This is on going research – the noun talk expressiveness research project – but it’s pretty far. Let’s switch to art and literature.

Many famous sentences convert easily. For example the unforgettable

It was a dark and stormy night


night darkness, storminess

(Notice  punctuation is allowed in noun talk)

You’ve all been watching Thrones Game (Game of Thrones) based on Ice, Fire Song (song of Ice and Fire).

41efe19ee47ce115fbc4dcf37ed5cd3bAnd read the Rings Lord trilogy Ring Fellowship, Tower Duo, and King Return and chuckled over the admonition

mordor walking entrance inadvisibility

Many titles are, perhaps with minor adjustment, already noun talk: Brothers Karamazov; Clockwork Orange; Canterbury Tales; Treasure Island;  Animal Farm; War, Peace; Pride, Prejudice; Crime, Punishment (etc); Catalonia Homage; Hitchhiker Galaxy Guide; Alice Wonderland Adventures; Young Man Artist Portrait; Lion, Witch, Wardrobe; …

And now a confession: I didn’t invent Noun Talk (although the name is mine). The credit goes to Michael Frayn, the famous playwright and novelist. The basic idea appears in his first novel The Tin Men.

The Tin Men takes place at the William Morris Institute for Automation. The Institute, which researches what we now call AI, is expecting a visit from the Queen to open the new Ethics Wing. AI? Ethics? Very up to date – except Frayn published The Tin Men more than fifty years ago!

511252Frayn’s book is a hilarious satire of automation, not to mention (bad) journalism and (bad) literature. In the book he briefly describes several on-going projects at the Institute.

For example the Ethics researchers are trying to endow robots with altruism (self sacrifice). To test their efforts they place their robot and another entity on a leaky raft in a swimming pool. When the other entity is an intern, the robot correctly throws itself overboard. However when the entity was a sandbag, an early version went down with the ship rather than throwing off the sandbag. It gets interesting when the other entity is another altruistic robot …

Another research group is automating journalism – writing newspaper articles. They did a survey of frequently appearing stories and discovered, for example, that some variant of “Paralyzed Girl Determined to Dance Again” appeared every ten days. They even surveyed readers as to their preferences and discovered, for example, that

A rail crash was always entertaining, with or without children’s toys still lying pathetically among the wreckage.

As for plane crashes

What people enjoyed most was about 70 dead, with some 20 survivors including children rescued after at least one night in open boats. They liked it to be backed up with a story about a middle-aged housewife who had been booked to fly aboard the plane but who had changed her mind at the last moment.

As part of the journalism automation project they invented UHL:

UHL was Unit Headline Language, and it consisted of a comprehensive lexicon of all the multi-purpose monosyllables used by headline-writers. Goldwasser’s insight had been to see that if the grammar of “ban,” “dash,” “fear,” and the rest was ambiguous they could be used in almost any order to make a sentence, and that if they could be used in almost any order to make a sentence they could be easily randomised.

Among other uses UHL could allow a story to be run with automated followups:





ad infinitum.

Recall that the “… Pot Bust Rap” and “… Cyberpunk Ambience … ” Noun Talk phrases were semantically ambiguous. They discovered the same thing at the William Morris Institute.

Goldwasser had had a survey conducted, in fact, in which 457 people were shown the headline ROW HOPE MOVE PLEA LEAK DASH SHOCK HATE BAN BID PROBE

The survey showed that

Asked if they thought they understood the headlines, 86.4 per cent said yes, but of these 97.3 per cent were unable to offer any explanation of what it was they had understood. With UHL, in other words, a computer could turn out a paper whose language was both soothingly familiar and yet calmingly incomprehensible.

Clearly UHL is Noun Talk, although a dialect restricted to one syllable nouns. All I’ve done is expanded it to allow multi syllable nouns and punctuation. And opened whole worlds of possibilities for this soothingly familiar yet calmingly incomprehensible new language.


About Bill Wadge

I am a retired Professor in Computer Science at UVic.
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