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May 21, 2008


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Hi there,

i'm writing a blog post about words that you only usually find together, or adjectives that are followed by only one noun. For example dulcet tones, you don't often hear of dulcet swimming. Is there a name for this phenomenon? Can you think of any others, an email back would be do great


Rachel: There's a linguistics term, "irreversible binomials," that refers to word pairs used in a fixed order: we say "meat and potatoes" but never "potatoes and meat," for example. (See halfway down in this post http://tinyurl.com/3p4dmd
for more on irreversible binomials.)

But I'm not sure that's what you mean. I'm not aware of another term for fixed word pairs, but perhaps one of my readers will help out.

As for your example, "dulcet" literally means "sweet," so it's appropriately paired with a sensory experience such as music. (It's also used to describe smells and sights, but less commonly.) I've seen some sweet swimming in my day, but it would seem odd to describe it as "dulcet."

There are some word combinations that come from shortened proverbs, often used, such as: "sour grapes" or "squeaking wheel" that match your description. Also compound words such as: woodwind or campground that may have started out as two words. The the use of the word dulcet may have had musical beginnings as refering to or coming from a "dulcimer" a musical intrument so that,"dulcet " would be used most naturally with musical terms such as "chords,songs or tones. "Sweet" might be more vesatile: sweetheart, sweet spot,sweet shop," It's a "sweet trip" to the candy shop. Where....., / You may have identfied a form that is more idiomatic than grammatical.

But I would read "a $100 million" as "a hundred million dollars", not as "a one hundred million dollars".

Ridger: "A $100 million" is parallel to "a $200 million," which is spoken "a two hundred million." The numeral "1" is in "100" for a reason. It makes the indefinite article redundant.

words that you only usually find together: collocation

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