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SavoirFaire's avatar

Can you think of any "chaperoned words" (see details)

Asked by SavoirFaire (28235points) January 26th, 2011

There are a number of what might be called “chaperoned words” in the English language. By this I mean words that typically do not appear unless they are alongside a specific word (where this companion word is not itself a chaperoned word).

Two examples would be “extenuating” and “ulterior,” which are almost always chaperoned by “circumstances” and “motive(s),” respectively.

Can you think of any other examples of chaperoned words? Can you find examples of chaperoned words without their typical companions? And is there a technical term for these words?

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27 Answers

the100thmonkey's avatar

You’re talking about collocation.

>> Take an unabridged dictionary such as the OED or Merriam-Webster (you should be able to find them in their complete form in your university library), and look at ‘get’ and ‘set’.

>> Sit back and appreciate the versatility and magnificence of the English language.

Different languages work in different ways, so collocation is of relative importance within them (although collocation is a universal of language). English is a somewhat isolating, lexico-syntactic language, which means that it’s particularly rich in collocation.


SavoirFaire's avatar

@the100thmonkey Thanks for the link! It is quite interesting. Though it seems I’m thinking of particularly strong collocations, yes?

gasman's avatar

Thanks & GA @the100thmonkey for teaching me a new term, too.
What did you mean by “isolating?”

the100thmonkey's avatar

There are whole minefields here about what actually separates “word” from “collocation”, and where grammar takes precendence over lexis.

@SavoirFaire – The collocations you mention are indeed very strong. If you’re interested, take a look at the British National Corpus or the Michigan Corpus of Academic English. The BNC is a far, far larger corpus (and there are corpora in existence an order of magnitude larger), although the BNC web interface is, really, really annoyingly, limited to 50 random hits – what are they trying to do, annoy us into ignoring it? MICASE is much smaller, but it allows much more granular search. MICASE is very useful for university-level ESL students – they can see for themselves how English is spoken in an academic context.

There are many more corpora online. The sad fact is the major ones that are used to compile dictionaries such as the OED, COBUILD or Merriam-Webster are locked away behind academic-level paywalls and a misguided sense of propriety of the data and therefore of the language itself.

Anyway, when I have to explain collocation to my students, I tell them it’s a similar phenomenon to people having friends – there are some people who are just inseparable, while others only meet on the odd occasion to do very specific things.

@gasman – an isolating language tends to have shorter words that are not composed through affixing bits to the beginning, middle and end of pre-existing words. English tends towards this paradigm. Mandarin is an archetypical example of the idea – words are often composed of only one sound/character and nothing more – context supplies the necessary information to process the code.

Japanese and Basque, on the other hand, are rather strongly synthetic (or agglutinative) languages – the “words” of the languages tend to pick up affixes that perform certain grammatical funtions (although the definition of ‘word’ is problematic).

For example, the situation where a situation or event occurs through the inaction of an agent might be expressed through “it was allowed to happen” in English. Each individual word within the sentence adds to the meaning “it happened” to provide a granular statement about the occurence – we know that it wasn’t a natural fact like the sun rising; we know that there was a strong element of human (in/anti)agency and we know that the person uttering the statement probably believes that it’s true.

Japanese, on the other hand – a synthetic/agglutinative language – would handle the same sense in an entirely different way – “okiraresareta”:

> Okiru (verb) – to happen
> Okiraseru (verb; causative) to let/make happen
> Okiraseta (verb, causative, past) – let/made happen
> Okiraresareta (verb, causative, past, passive) – was allowed/made to happen.

(I might have gotten the intricacies of the Japanese verb wrong – I’m still learning, and my wife focusses on communication over accuracy when we talk, so I could be slightly off)

JilltheTooth's avatar

Gosh, I was going to give an example but now I’m intimated. And educated, thank you @the100thmonkey !
I do love the term “chaperoned words”, though. Does “unmitigated gall” count?

the100thmonkey's avatar

@JilltheToothIt does – note the spike around 1945 – perhaps this was the Anglophone media was going into overdrive about Hitler and Nazism.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@the100thmonkey : This is all fantastically cool! I love it!

Brian1946's avatar

I think “filial piety” is another example of collocation.

WasCy's avatar

Oh, I’ve got one that not only fits, but it’s oxymoronic, to boot:

matrimonial bliss

iamthemob's avatar

I think that the phenomenon that you’re describing reasonably may be a form of what I’ll inelegantly describe as a form of reverse-collocation.

What you’re talking about is a situation where one of the words is a fossil word. These are words that have fallen out of use in the language but remain because of use in an idiom that remains. The words become associated mostly because one has stopped being used.

There’s another thread on a different site here with a discussion on them.

I think that there’s an argument that collocation in this sense results in a compound noun. Because English is an isolating language as @the100thmonkey mentions, we don’t have as many closed compounds as open or spaced ones. German has some awesome closed compounds.

There are a few of these that aren’t as clear because they once were in use, but were part of a closed compound. The word that falls out of usage or doesn’t get translated ends up a cranberry morpheme.

What I found out looking around at this is there’s a wicked cool project involving what some are referring to as eggcorns, Because compounds and idioms have their own meaning, and there’s a disconnect between spoken and written language, this is a specific kind of mistake where the wrong word is inserted into the phrase/compound. The original “eggcorn” was actually meant to be the word “acorn.”

Jeruba's avatar

We can find many instances of “filial” without “piety” and “piety” without “filial.” Likewise “matrimonial” and “bliss.” You can speak of “gall” without “unmitigated,” and if you can have mitigated anything you can also have it unmitigated. So I don’t think these are examples of the kind that the question is asking for, which, as I understand it, are words that are virtually never found without their respective companions. These are just stock phrases.

I do see “ulterior purpose” (though not quite as frequently as “ulterior motive”), but I can’t think of anything extenuating except circumstances. However, can.

iamthemob's avatar

@the100thmonkey – That link looks…familiar…;-)

@SavoirFaireThis site on multiword expressions is really helpful. The relevant part categorizes it as a member of the

“Anomalous collocations”, a group of collocations that is lexicogrammatically marked and specifically a cranberry collocation, which has an “idiosyncratic lexical component,” where one or more words found only in that collocation (or is a fossil word, as in – in retrospect, kith and kin).

Also – the phenomenon that you discuss where we predict the follow up word in the pair is part of what is called priming – specifically context priming I believe (just in case).

the100thmonkey's avatar

Just seen this. I’ve been somewhat busy and haven’t been follwing up on ‘recent activity’ as I should

@iamthemob – it should look familiar; it’s a wikidpedia page. Clearly there’s more going on in your comment than your brevity. Care to elaborate?

iamthemob's avatar

@the100thmonkey – i already answered the fossil words issue, and linked out to that. ;-)

Jeruba's avatar

How about pitched? What does it ever modify besides battle?

WasCy's avatar


scream or shriek, but then it’s always accompanied by “high”

wildpotato's avatar

Aplomb. Usually appears with “with great”.

wildpotato's avatar

Avail. Requires “to no”.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@wildpotato – as a noun, yes.

The Free Dictionary page on it is informative.

wildpotato's avatar

@the100thmonkey True, I had forgotten “to avail oneself” and other constructions. Thanks for the link.

dxs's avatar

Chaise from chaise lounge.

wildpotato's avatar

Amok – usually appears with a conjugate of “to run.” Occurred to me while watching “Amok Time” this evening.

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wildpotato's avatar

Dudgeon – always appears with “in high.”

dxs's avatar

Seagull is an informal name for gull, but how many people actually just call them gulls?

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