Scarecrow and pickpocket are compound words that name things and people by describing what they do. Such nouns were especially popular centuries ago, when quake-breech meant a coward, a saddle-goose was a fool, a scrape-gut was a violinist, and tanglelegs meant strong alcohol. The linguistic term for such terms is a mouthful: agentive and instrumental exocentric verb-noun compounds. Linguist Brianne Hughes, who has studied them extensively, calls them cutthroat compounds, the word cutthroat being another case in point. She’s collected more than 1200 cutthroat compounds at her website, Encyclopedia Briannica. This is part of a complete episode.

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