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Obscure words combine to form common phrase
May 16, 2010 7:27 PM   Subscribe

There are certain obscure English words that are rarely used alone, but show up in more commonly used word pairs - the best example I can think of is "miasmic fug". I am trying to write about this phenomenon, so if anyone can suggest other word pairs like this I would be very grateful!
posted by csg77 to Writing & Language (60 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
(Trials and) tribulations
posted by k. at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2010


wreak havoc
posted by jschu at 7:30 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


cease and desist
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2010


(moral) turpitude
posted by XMLicious at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2010


Kith and kin. To and fro. Hither and yon. Hill and dale.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:37 PM on May 16, 2010


Flotsam and jetsam.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:41 PM on May 16, 2010


Veritable plethora. As in, "this thread is bound to attract a veritable plethora of sesquipedalien mefites."
posted by usonian at 7:41 PM on May 16, 2010


Vertiable onslaught.
posted by 8dot3 at 7:45 PM on May 16, 2010


Gaping maw.
posted by mellifluous at 7:47 PM on May 16, 2010


moot (point)
posted by ropeladder at 7:50 PM on May 16, 2010


Some key terms that may be useful for researching this: binomial expression and collocation.
posted by Paragon at 7:51 PM on May 16, 2010


I hear "veritable" and "plethora" separately, but I don't know if I've ever heard "veritable plethora." Same with "veritable onslaught" (except that, unlike the others, "onslaught" is actually a somewhat useful word).
posted by k. at 7:51 PM on May 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


"stark" in "stark naked" and "stark raving mad"

"moot" in "moot point" and "moot court"

The Eggcorn Database is a good source of these, since many of them arise when people substitute a familiar word that sort of makes sense for an unfamiliar one compounds like these, for example, "star craving mad" for "stark raving mad," or "mute point" for "moot point."

("Eggcorn" is a misspelling "acorn" - because they look like eggs - and the name of a type of semantically-based substitution spelling error.)
posted by nangar at 7:55 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vim and vigor? I've never heard vim used independently.
posted by overthrow at 7:57 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this a joke? "Fug" is not in the top ten Google autocompletes for "miasmic," and the top hit for that phrase is this thread.

That said, "unmitigated gall."
posted by escabeche at 7:58 PM on May 16, 2010


augur well
posted by DarlingBri at 8:08 PM on May 16, 2010


scantily (clad)

Hither and thither
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:10 PM on May 16, 2010


travesty of justice
posted by kprincehouse at 8:11 PM on May 16, 2010


Does it matter if one of the words is often used separately as long as the other isn't? Because I've heard "miasmic" a ton of times and I've literally never heard the word "fug" until this post. I'm not sure if this is because you only intend that one of the words always be accompanied by the other, of if you want them to both be obscure and just read much different things than I do.
posted by Nattie at 8:13 PM on May 16, 2010


miasmic fog. The OP means fog.
posted by purpleclover at 8:16 PM on May 16, 2010


Apparently, "fug" is British and means "a warm, stuffy, or smoky atmosphere in a room." There may be some regional variation here.
posted by k. at 8:20 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Champ at the bit.

Hem and haw.

Hue and cry.

Beg the question. (not sure if that 'beg' is a whole new word, or a very weird meaning for the common word, at any rate, it shows that 'beg' had a broader meaning than it does now.)
posted by Some1 at 8:20 PM on May 16, 2010


Not trying to be irritating about these, just don't know where the OP is coming from so... as a datapoint, while all the following are common expressions, I hear both of these words separately very frequently, so if they came up in a paper with the conditions the OP describes I would find them to be odd examples.

trials and tribulations
wreak and havoc
cease and desist
veritable and plethora/onslaught
gaping and maw
moot and point
stark
unmitigated and gall
travesty of justice
augur well
(I've never actually heard this at all, but I've heard augur and well used separately many times)
Champ at the bit.
Hue and cry.
Beg the question.


I agree with the following that at least one of the words is rarely heard without the other:

Kith and kin. To and fro. Hither and yon. Hill and dale.
Flotsam and jetsam.
Vim and vigor.
Scantily
-- I always hear this only with clad/dressed, and I'm not sure that it applies to much else.
Hither and thither
Hem and haw.

posted by Nattie at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


condign punishment
posted by dogrose at 8:24 PM on May 16, 2010


pomp and circumstance
posted by cecic at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2010


It seems like havoc is the only thing you can wreak anymore.
posted by not that girl at 8:27 PM on May 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Madcap heiress
posted by motown missile at 8:29 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


nook and cranny
posted by 23skidoo at 8:31 PM on May 16, 2010


various and sundry
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know, sometimes I like to go out and wreak a little unholy vengeance.
posted by adamrice at 8:37 PM on May 16, 2010


I've heard many of these words independently. So, tropes, idioms? Lazy English cliches?
posted by zippy at 8:38 PM on May 16, 2010


Madcap heiress

Hijinks ensue.
posted by katemonster at 8:39 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the OP wants individual words that aren't used outside certain phrases (regardless of what other words those phrases contain).

I have rarely heard "tribulations," "wreak," or "desist" outside those phrases. (But "madcap heiress," seriously? I've never heard that ever.)

"Hue and cry" is an interesting case because that sense of the word "hue" actually doesn't exist outside the phrase: my dictionary says we took it wholesale from Norman French "hu e cri."
posted by k. at 8:41 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hale and hearty.
posted by dontoine at 8:43 PM on May 16, 2010


rue the day
posted by 23skidoo at 8:48 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently wrote "embroiled in a fiasco" in a facebook status update, and it occurred to me that you only hear those words in that phrase.

Within the week I saw one of them in a different context.
posted by antiquark at 9:00 PM on May 16, 2010


hoisted on your own petard

(short) shrift

Wikipedia on "fossil words."
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good ones from that Wikipedia entry:

Ulterior motives

sticks in your craw

run amok

sleight of hand (not "slight")

I'm not convinced by some of their other examples, e.g. "at loggerheads" -- does it count if the only word that always accompanies it is a preposition?

Some of us should add to the Wikipedia entry.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:16 PM on May 16, 2010


Nattie nailed it. Very few of the words here do I only hear in the phrases they are listed in, but nattie's list covered most of them.

Nattie even listed one incorrectly. Hither and yon are both used separately. "Come hither" and yon is a form of yonder (which you may not hear if you live in the wrong part of the country).
posted by thekiltedwonder at 9:32 PM on May 16, 2010


The only things that get cupped are people's superstitious sickly relatives, and breasts.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:38 PM on May 16, 2010


I rarely hear "fell" as an adjective other than with "swoop".
posted by little light-giver at 9:45 PM on May 16, 2010


Casting aspersions ("Casting" here, in the sense of throwing around. Not sure if that's rare enough for you.)
posted by Blau at 9:46 PM on May 16, 2010


Nattie is right that several of these suggestions don't really fit, but I think Nattie's list is too broad.

Here's my test: if you hear one of the words outside its common phrase, would your first instinct be to think of the phrase as a way to grasp the meaning of the isolated word?

For instance, "wreak havoc." Nattie may be right that either of these can appear on its own. I've heard "play havoc." But guess what I immediately did when I heard that? I thought: "Oh, that's like 'wreak havoc,' but with a different verb." The fact that I (and most people) would first need to think about the common phrase in order to comprehend the less common phrase, to me, qualifies "wreak havoc" for this list.

Another example: "trials and tribulations." OK, maybe "tribulations" is occasionally used on its own. But if you're like me, if you saw this, you would immediately think to yourself, "Oh, that's like 'trials and tribulations,' so I guess 'tribulations' on its own means about the same thing." So, I think "trials and tribulations" belongs on the list.

"Veritable onslaught"? No, "veritable" is commonly used with many different nouns, and I'd instantly understand it without needing to think, "Gee, this is like 'veritable onslaught' but without the onslaught." And I know what "onslaught" is; I don't expect it to be paired with "veritable."

Of course, this is somewhat subjective and unreliable. For instance, my elementary school's song had the line, "We work with a vim, and we never give in." So I wouldn't have thought of "vim" as being dependent on the phrase "vim and vigor." But my experience might be an oddity, in which case "vim and vigor" might still belong on the list.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:56 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only things that get cupped are people's superstitious sickly relatives, and breasts.

All kinds of things get cupped. When I worked in a deli we cupped salads all the time. I agree with Nattie, most of these words I hear quite often independently.

On preview: casting aspersions -- casting's common in fishing, knitting, casting things into the wind...
posted by frobozz at 9:57 PM on May 16, 2010


Just deserts

(apparently, this really is the phrase---deserts as in things you deserve, not things that are very dry)
posted by leahwrenn at 10:08 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't won't to seem defensive about a list that I threw out, but what the hell.

How often do you hear 'hue' meaning an alarm without 'and cry'? Maybe it happens but I can't think of any time I've heard it. It's homograph is common of course, but homographs aren't the same word.

Who champs at something besides a bit?

I'd ask my own AskMe but something really important might come up this week, and this is related, no?
posted by Some1 at 10:30 PM on May 16, 2010


hoisted on your own petard

Which canonically should be just "hoist" or if you wish to regularize the verb "hoised", not "hoisted"—"hoise" is the root form of the verb. So in this example, it's not just one word, "petard", that occurs only in the specific context, but the two words together, but the collision with "hoist" as a related verb in contemporary usage to the antique "hoise" masks that.
posted by cortex at 10:42 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Madcap heiress

Hijinks ensue.


Zany antics
posted by motown missile at 11:50 PM on May 16, 2010


"Perfidious Albion" (Shakespeare).
"Perfidious Jews" (formerly, the Roman Catholic Good Friday Prayer for the Jews).
posted by orthogonality at 12:35 AM on May 17, 2010


Here's my test: if you hear one of the words outside its common phrase, would your first instinct be to think of the phrase as a way to grasp the meaning of the isolated word?

Well, the OP's intent is unclear, and it would be nice to have a clarification. Are we looking for word pairs in which only one of the words is rarely or never used elsewhere, or are we looking for word pairs in which the two words are always used together.

If the former is the case, I think 'deserts', as suggested by leahwrenn, is a great example. That word is never used anymore unless preceded by 'just'. This case is complicated by the fact that the word is has homographs (though only one homophone) related to dry places and abandonment of military service, though...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:51 AM on May 17, 2010


spic and span.
posted by molecicco at 3:52 AM on May 17, 2010


The OP's question suggests to me that both parts of the syntagma should be rare, not just one. Most examples given here fail if that is the case. The OP's own example fails, in that 'miasmic fug' is not a phrase of the kind he/she suggests - neither miasmic nor fug are most common in that particular pairing. The OP should clarify the question.
posted by londongeezer at 3:59 AM on May 17, 2010


Well, the OP's intent is unclear, and it would be nice to have a clarification. Are we looking for word pairs in which only one of the words is rarely or never used elsewhere, or are we looking for word pairs in which the two words are always used together.

The OP's question suggests to me that both parts of the syntagma should be rare, not just one.


The question said: "There are certain obscure English words that are rarely used alone, but show up in more commonly used word pairs..." This suggests the OP is looking for any such phrase that contains even one obscure word. But the sentence is ambiguous. Since the OP doesn't seem to be participating in the thread, we might as well interpret the question broadly; if some of the answers don't fit the OP's needs, the OP can ignore them.

Also, the OP never said that any word in the phrase needs to be used exclusively in that phrase. The word just needs to be "obscure" or "rarely used alone."
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:36 AM on May 17, 2010


Arms akimbo.
posted by ook at 6:44 AM on May 17, 2010


whirling dervish
posted by 23skidoo at 7:05 AM on May 17, 2010


Richard Lederer has written at least one column about these types of words, although I cannot remember which of his books it was in (I only read them when visiting my grandmother).
posted by OmieWise at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2010


I rarely see asperity outside the phrase "with some asperity." It seems to crop up when describing so-called spunky female characters: "blah blah," she said with some asperity.
posted by fantine at 2:11 PM on May 17, 2010


tit for tat
posted by timepiece at 2:52 PM on May 17, 2010


Wow, thanks guys, that is a fantastic response. - I had intended for both words to be - not necessarily obscure (i.e., they can be familiar) - but not often used. One of the best examples above is "whirling dervish" - whirl is not particularly obscure, but neither do we use it all the time.

Apologies for not participating thus far - was sent away for work! Oh, and I did mean "fug", but you're right, it is a British term. It surprised me that it was so rare on Google - I did search it - but I have seen it many times in books, newspapers and heard it from several different people - maybe this is an example of how online writing marks a shift in the use of language.

Thanks again everyone!
posted by csg77 at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2010


Just today realized that I rarely, if ever, hear "extol" without "virtues."
posted by dontoine at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2010


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