Bahuvrihi Compounds

Brendan S. Gillon CXBG at MUSICA.MCGILL.CA
Tue May 4 12:54:51 UTC 1993

The message below is a comment on the a portion of an earlier message
pertaining to bahuvrihi compounds. The portion reads as follows:

      An exocentric compound is one that
      lacks a "head." For example, a bootstrap (ignoring the semantic drift)
      is a kind of strap and a truck driver a kind of driver. Those are
      endocentric compounds. But a pickpocket is not a kind of pocket, nor
      is a lazybones a kind of bone (or a kind of lazyness). These headless
      compounds are exocentric.

Bahuvrihi compounds are compounds, typically of the form Noun Noun or
Adjective Noun, where the first word can be construed predicatively
wrt the second; the compound as a whole modifies, in the way an adjective
does, some other word. Most such compounds in English are marked with the
possessive suffix -ed: "two-foot-ed", "fair-mind-ed", "even-hand-ed",
"dim-witted".  (By the way, this is the same possessive suffix which
appears in words such as "talented", "bearded".) In many cases, where the
adjectival compound is used as an epithet or a noun, the -ed suffix,
the suffix is omissible: e.g., "dim-wit", "heavy weight".

Sanskrit bahuvrihi compounds are just like these compounds, except the
suffix is phonetically null, though there is the alternative overt suffix -ka.

These compounds are different from "pickpocket". These compounds, numerous
but not productive in English, were apparently borrowed into English from
French, where they are very productive. They have the form Verb Noun and
are paraphrasable as "one who or that which verbs a noun". These compounds
are themselves nouns, not adjectives, unlike bahuvrihi compounds.

"Pickpocket"-like compounds do occur in Vedic Sanskrit, rarely, and even
more rarely in Classical Sanskrit.


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