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Specialized words

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 04, 2009 at 06:53

In Reply to: Specialized words posted by R. Berg on October 03, 2009 at 15:45:

: : : : : Does anyone have a list of those words that never seem to exist on their own e.g. SWINGEING cuts ; savage indictment (maybe not a good example). I think there was a humorous article on this in The Independent or The Guardian relatively recently.

: : : : ["... words that never seem to exist on their own" - not sure what you mean. Something like "nape of the neck"? If anything else has a nape I never heard of it. Yet no one says "nape" without saying "of the neck." 'Tis strange. -Bac.]

: : :
: : : Nothing scuds except clouds. ~rb

: : I disagree. Terriers scud! (VSD)

: Oh? In all my reading, not a single terrier has scudded. ~rb

I find this subject a little tricky, and I'm not sure of the value of such a list. You surely would use it only to provide corroboration that a particular word was used only with one other word in a phrase; and you don't need a list for that. What you need is to make sure the word really is as constricted in use as you think it is.

Let's take scud, for example, just the verb, not the Scud missile or other appearances as a noun. Thomas More, in 1532, said of William Tindale, "Tindall hath, as ye haue hearde, scudded in & out lyke an hare yt had .xx. brace of greyhoundes after her." The OED provides this and many other quotations, in which scudding is done by other agencies than clouds and sailing ships. "I have trodde & scudde tyll my wind is almost paste." Scudding has been done by "my panting heart," by the trout, and by the black owl. You find also: "Animals . . . scudding along the plains," "He scuds into dinner," amd "the train scudded off." The word can be used in the imperative to mean "Be off," as in "Scud, you vagabond!"

No terriers were mentioned, but I'm sure they scud.

The problem with nape is that it is a noun, and nouns are supposed to have one meaning only, even if they often have more. That is, they are supposed to be specialized.