the/a human blockhead

< Previous | Next >

VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
Mulder and Scully are investigating murders happening in a community of former circus sideshow performers. It looked like it might be some creature, but turns out it's going to be the local human blockhead.
Scully: For a while there, I was beginning to suspect this case involved something a bit more, um...
Mulder: Freakish?
Scully shrugs and nods, indicating "yes."
Mulder: You really shouldn't complain about banality, Scully, when your main suspect is the human blockhead.
The X-Files, episode Humbug

What does "the" indicate here? I would have expected "a". Is he referring to the particular human blockhead in this community, known as Dr. Blockhead (he's also an escape artist)?
Thanks.
 
Last edited:
  • ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    As we say "the geek", "the bearded lady", "the India-rubber man", etc. for carnival performers, so we'd say "the human blockhead" - a variety of standard performer in this type of show. This person drives nails into their head.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    As we say "the geek", "the bearded lady", "the India-rubber man", etc. for carnival performers, so we'd say "the human blockhead" - a variety of standard performer in this type of show. This person drives nails into their head.
    So "the human blockhead" puts us in the context of a carnival performance, whereas "a human blockhead" would also be correct and sound more generally, am I right?
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    "Blockhead" is a slang insult for a stupid person, understood to be a human being—
    so "human blockhead" is redundant in a confusing way. What other kind of blockhead could there be?
    "The" signals to me that the following phrase refers to something that is expected in the context of the circus or carnival,
    like "the geek", etc. mentioned by ain'ttranslationfun?
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    A human blockhead is a carnival or sideshow performer who hammers a nail or other implement (such as an awl or screwdriver) into his or her nasal cavity via the nostril.
    Wiki:)

    So I was wondering how would it differ with "a" in the OP.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I suppose someone familiar with sideshows could ask
    "They have a Fat Lady and a Sword Swallower; do the have a Human Blockhead?"
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I suppose someone familiar with sideshows could asayingsk
    "They have a Fat Lady and a Sword Swallower; do the have a Human Blockhead?"
    I see how it works here, but I'm still not sure about saying it with "a" in the OP context, where the context differs. What would you say?...
     

    ain'ttranslationfun?

    Senior Member
    US English
    "...when your main suspect is a perfect example of (whatever)".

    If you're still not sure, Vic, I'd say toss a coin and move on; don't lose too much sleep over it. :)
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Maybe there is only one "human blockhead" in the community that they're investigating. If so, "the" is appropriate.
    Yes, but the phrase looks like a generalization: "something a bit more freakish", "banality". So I think "a human blockhead" would fit fine, right?
    "...when your main suspect is a perfect example of (whatever)".

    If you're still not sure, Vic, I'd say toss a coin and move on; don't lose too much sleep over it. :)
    I.e., I take it you agree that "a" would work well in the OP: "when your main suspect is a (example of) human blockhead" ?
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top