Fixed colocation


random trip report

Dean Jacobs proposed searching for adjectives that are commonly applied only to a single noun (or maybe two or three synonyms). Linguists call this sort of thing fixed colocation. Here are some examples:

  • Ulterior (motive)
  • Opposable (thumbs)
  • Bleeding-heart (liberal)
  • Double-barreled (shotgun)
  • Vise-like (grip)
  • Preconceived (notion)
  • Unrequited (love)
Some examples are technical words, coined or specialized for a particular purpose:
  • Nictitating (membrane)
  • Diatomaceous (earth)
  • Laminar (flow)
  • Metamorphic/igneous/sedimentary (rock)
  • Nondevelopable (surface)
  • Prehensile (tail)
  • Covalent (bond)
  • Abelian (group)
Sometimes a cliche can provide a weak example:
  • Erogenous (zone)
  • Furtive (glance)
  • Unwashed (masses)
  • Harebrained (scheme)
  • Untimely (end or death)
  • New-car (smell)
  • Insatiable (appetite, thirst, desire, lust)
  • Voracious (appetite, reader)
  • Brute (strength, force)
  • Subliminal (message or advertising)
Some adverb examples:
  • Hermetically (sealed)
  • Polymorphously (perverse)
  • Inextricably (intertwined, linked)
  • Diametrically (opposed)

Please mail me if you disagree with any of these or have other suggestions.


Mike O'Brien adds the following:
Interesting words, sort of in the same vein but not quite:

Tarmac, normally called asphalt, but at an airport it is tarmac.

Scudding: Seems to be a verb that only applies to clouds. Although I
once read that a ship could scud too.

Jut: A verb that applies to stationary, inanimate objects.

Copyright 2019 © David P. Anderson