Brief Analysis of Compounding Words in English

Ken Wais 10/2/11

Note: the analysis below is not meant to be a formal paper on the subject.It is my personal reflection on a topic that oddly enough I wondered about after awakening from a dream about compound words in English.

Introduction

English has retained the Germanic linguistic construction of compounding words to create new words, though it has been retarded by the influence of Latin language importations, especially French.Germanic languages like Dutch, German, Frisian, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and others, all share the quality of being able to combine separate nouns into one word and thus create new nouns.English has since its modern period; beginning in the 17th century gradually retarded the usage of compounding.Though, in recent years this trend seems to have reversed.

Linguists refer to compound words as agglutination. I will avoid this technical term.Instead we will use the terms compound and decompound to mean the ability of this language to combine and uncombined one or more individual words.When referring to a compound word that contains two individual words, I will call them bi-compounded words, if there are three compounded words, I will call them tri-compounded words or tri-compounds.I donít believe that compounding occurs with more than three words in any English morphemic construction, there is no need for any further coinage.An examination of compounded words in English shows that while we donít construct infinite words and canít form meaningful infinite words, we can create a huge finite set of compounded words that increase the lexicon of the language with this rule of combination.Some characteristics of our language that compounding augments are variety, descriptive power, and precision of conceptualization.There are several aspects of interest on this subject here are a few:

1.      Estimate of the total size of words in English.This does vary, I use a narrow scope and restrict it to non-scientific words, like a chemical compounds based on Latin or Greek, or foreign imports like coup-de-etat.

 

2.      How many words are compounded in English?

 

3.      Can we reverse compounded words, decompound them and will they still make sense in sentential usage?

 

4.      What are the percentages, averages and other statistical quantities of questions 2 and 3?

 

5.      Is it possible to compound any given English word such that it will create a meaningful word when it is compounded with any other English word?

Question 5 is particularly intriguing. It seems we can take almost any noun at random and combine it with another and still achieve a meaningful compounded word.An example will give you a taste of what this means.Letís take a color: blue.Now we can add another noun to it to create a new word that some meaning can be attributed to. It might be coined meaning, but still it is easy to see each of the words below can have some meaning assigned to them. It could be idiomatic or literal, but again that all have semantic content.

Bluewall, bluefloor, bluenight, blueday, bluearm, blueeye, bluehead, bluemind, bluesight, bluesun,blueboard, blueseat, blueback, bluetime, blueglass, blueworld, blueland, bluedoor, bluetalk.†† All of these words could be seen to have meaning.The only exclusion to compounding blue with others words would seem to be the other must be a noun. Though, even this isnít entirely true. I can imagine bluethinking as having some subjective meaning.

English and Compounding

I have found a total of 2276 compounded words in English via a Net search. They all are bi-compounded words.Of these I have selected 190 to analyze.Interesting results were achieved for the idea of creating new words by using compounding. If we reverse these bi-compounds and use them in sentences a great many will be semantically meaningful.In some cases the reversals can be compounded themselves and yield meaningful statements in our language. Here are some stats Iíve developed based on a survey of 190 compounded words out the total 2276 compounded English words.

 

         13% of the time bi-compounded words can be reversed and compounded again to yield meaningful words.

         40% of the time bi-compounded words cannot be reversed and yield any meaningful construction.

         42% of the time bi-compounded words can be reversed and do yield meaningful constructions if not compounded again.

         4% of the time bi-compounded words when reversed yield indeterminate constructions.

         The numbers of compounded words are very small compared to the total number of English words (taking 500,000 to be this number.They are .004% of the lexicon.

It should be noted that a very strict regime was used when bi-compounded words were reversed.No insertions of characters or other words between the reversed de-compounded words were allowed. For instance, greenhouse when reversed is house green.A sentence could be formed as such: The greenhouse was a house of green.But this would have required of to be inserted.

Source Data

Below is a table of all 190 compounds reversed, and examples of reverse usage where this can be done.

First

Second

Example

port

air

the port air at the airport smelled of salt

more

any

place

any

place any of them anyplace you want

thing

any

where

any

where any of you go beware of me anywhere

chair

arm

he leaned on the chair arm of the armchair

ache

back

ground

back

in the background of his thought he wondered how could he win ground back from the enemy

pack

back

in his backpack he had a plan to get his loyal pack back

ball

basket

the basketball player drug along a large ball basket

robe

bath

tub

bath

ship

battle

the battleship was soon engaged in a deadly ship battle

room

bed

the bedroom had only one room bed and two chairs

line

bee

day

birth

she remembered on her birthday that the doctors said day birth was more difficult than night birth

board

black

the painters applied a paste to make the blackboard, board black

case

book

the lawyer walked up to the bookcase and took down the casebook

let

book

shelf

book

a shelfbook is what a bookshelf contains

worm

book

like shelfbook below

case

brief

the military officer held in his briefcase, the entire case brief

cup

butter

like shelfbook below

fly

butter

we fly butter in planes like a butterfly

fire

camp

they lit campfires throughout the training fire camp

ground

camp

stick

candle

a candlestick is not the same as stick candle, which is a stick made into a candle

board

card

his cardboard, board card allowed him unimpeded access to all areas of the train

pet

car

Proudly the motorist drove his pet car onto the winning carpet

stick

chop

mate

class

Even though the 10 year old boy was her classmate, she felt at 25 years old, he was not in her mate class

wise

clock

yard

court

From the courtyard, he convened a strange yard court to assemble

boy

cow

the cowboy struggled to rope a boy cow

board

cup

let

cut

devil

dare

devils

dare

the daredevils reminded me, that devils dare

dream

day

it was mesmering, this dreamday to come true in her daydream

washer

dish

water

dish

dishwater is not the same as a waterdish, which a dish containing water

bell

door

a doorbell is a ringing device, while a bell door is a door of bells

mat

door

same as above

step

door

same as above

stop

door

same as above

way

door

same as above

fly

dragon

the scientist said to the dragonfly, fly dragon!

let

drop

she felt a wet droplet in her eye, which soon she let drop

ache

ear

ring

ear

green

ever

body

every

day

every

ball

eye

print

finger

his printfinger was a measurement quantity not his fingerprint

arm

fire

fighter

fire

the firefighter jumped in the conflagration with fighter fire in his heart

place

fire

place fire in the fireplace

proof

fire

works

fire

tail

fish

look at the fishtail of the tailfish

ball

foot

the kicker knew after his first attempt the footbal had injured his ball foot

print

foot

cast

fore

see

fore

get

for

don't forget to get for me a pack of cigarettes

give

for

the compassionate believers give for all, and forgive all

fold

four

fold four linens and their power will be increased fourfold

ship

friend

She wasmy ship friend at sea, and it soon became true friendship on land

man

gentle

fish

gold

fish gold from the bottom of the goldfish tank

father

grand

father grand descendants grandfather

mother

grand

stand

grand

hopper

grass

yard

grave

house

green

nut

ground

storm

hail

A hailstorm will storm hail from the heavens

way

hall

cuff

hand

he had the handcuff in his cuff hand

ache

head

He coined the term achehead to describe any one that consistently gave him a headache

light

head

like above

master

head

like above

mistress

head

like above

beat

heart

broken

heart

he took his heartbroken face away from her, but she was also a broken heart, and this he did not know

way

high

work

home

The parent tried to work home the idea that homework was important to her son

comb

honey

to comb honey in a honeycomb is impossible

worm

hook

fly

horse

boat

house

houseboat is the same as a boathouse

side

in

inside means to be within a structure, while side in means to keep the sides of a structure shut

bone

jaw

bug

lady

Since you loved the ladybug in her greenhouse, she was called the buglady

lady

land

lord

land

ship

leader

the ship leader must show leadership

let

leaf

wise

length

house

light

the lighthouse had one one houselight in the observation area

speaker

loud

piece

master

stick

match

ball

meat

A meatball is made when you ball meat into a circular shape

light

moon

Is a light moon the source of this moonlight?

self

my

tie

neck

paper

news

body

no

hand

off

Don't hand off this to me in an offhand way

line

on

I don't mean online, I mean is the line on

wise

other

door

out

field

out

fit

out

grow

out

some plants in there outgrowth have a directional process in which they grow out and then down back into the soil

law

out

let

out

I need an outlet to let out my feelings

number

out

patient

out

side

out

Outside does not refer to sideout, which is a technical term

board

over

dose

over

due

over

cake

pan

A pancake can be made in a cakepan

ship

partner

My partnership began while on a boat, he was my ship partner

knife

pen

copy

photo

A photocopy is not a photo copy

ground

play

room

play

corn

pop

man

post

A postman delivers mail, while a manpost is where a man is standing at his assumed position

way

rail

bow

rain

drops

rain

So many raindrops, but do the drops rain upon us all?

snake

rattle

the rattlesnake was startled by snakerattle a few feet from it

worm

ring

ringworm is a disease, while a wormring is a collection of worms in a ring

bags

sand

sandbags, so many of them, and he bags sand all day

castle

sand

the sandcastle was supported by castle sand, which surrounded the structure

paper

sand

Sandpaper is not paper sand

food

sea

shore

sea

weed

sea

wreck

ship

shipwreck is what the wreckship does find

string

shoe

a shoestring was what the stringshoe was entirely made of

bread

short

board

skate

a skateboard is not board skate, that is a skate on top of a board

scraper

sky

board

snow

same as below

storm

snow

the snowstorm dumped a huge amount of storm snow on the hillside

thing

some

proof

sound

ship

space

Please don't get in the ship space of the spaceship

case

stair

light

star

like moonlight above

ache

stomach

berry

straw

light

sun

like moonlight above

shine

sun

I say shine sun gives us your sunshine

human

super

impose

super

to impose super human qualities is not to superimpose

natural

super

same as above

board

surf

gate

tail

a tailgate is not a gatetail, that is the end of any gate's structure

cup

tea

pot

tea

storm

thunder

she was afraid during a thunderstorm of the storm thunder that roared around her home

rope

tight

this tightrope is a rope tight for sure

table

time

to table time is impossible while a timetable is a chart

stone

tomb

the tombstone was affixed above the stone tomb

box

tool

a box tool was retrieved from the toolbox

brush

tooth

stand

under

you understand to stand under a 50 ton object is to risk your life

paper

wall

the wallpaper on the paperwall was cracked

robe

ward

ship

war

the warship in engaged in a deadly ship war

melon

water

I say melonwater is that which flows from a watermelon

proof

water

end

week

this weekend will be the end week as last weekend was the begin week of the program

barrow

wheel

the worker gripped the barrow wheel of the wheelbarrow

chair

wheel

the wheelchair patient revovled wildly spinning the chair wheel on the ice with his hand

cutter

wood

land

wood

pile

wood

they gang of prisoners were told to pile wood on the woodpile

shed

wood

he felt as if he had shed wood from his beard in the woodshed

work

wood

he wanted to work wood, to show off his woodwork

worm

wood

self

your


Below the same data without examples and a tabulation of counts of word quantities

Compound Word

First

Second

Reversible

CountFirst

CountSecond

CountNo

CountYes

CountReversible

CountEnglishTotal

airport

port

air

yes

anymore

more

any

no

anyplace

place

any

yes

anything

thing

any

no

anywhere

where

any

yes

armchair

chair

arm

yes

backache

ache

back

no

background

ground

back

yes

backpack

pack

back

yes

basketball

ball

basket

yes

bathrobe

robe

bath

no

bathtub

tub

bath

no

battleship

ship

battle

yes

bedroom

room

bed

yes

beeline

line

bee

no

birthday

day

birth

yes

blackboard

board

black

yes

bookcase

case

book

yes1

booklet

let

book

no

bookshelf

shelf

book

yes1

bookworm

worm

book

yes1

briefcase

case

brief

yes

buttercup

cup

butter

yes1

butterfly

fly

butter

yes

campfire

fire

camp

yes

campground

ground

camp

no

candlestick

stick

candle

yes

cardboard

board

card

yes

carpet

pet

car

yes

chopstick

stick

chop

no

classmate

mate

class

yes

clockwise

wise

clock

no

courtyard

yard

court

yes

cowboy

boy

cow

yes

cupboard

board

cup

no

cutlet

let

cut

no

daredevil

devil

dare

no

daredevils

devils

dare

yes

daydream

dream

day

yes1

dishwasher

washer

dish

no

dishwater

water

dish

yes1

doorbell

bell

door

yes

doormat

mat

door

yes

doorstep

step

door

yes

doorstop

stop

door

yes

doorway

way

door

yes

dragonfly

fly

dragon

yes

droplet

let

drop

yes

earache

ache

ear

no

earring

ring

ear

no

evergreen

green

ever

no

everybody

body

every

no

everyday

day

every

no

eyeball

ball

eye

no

fingerprint

print

finger

yes1

firearm

arm

fire

no

firefighter

fighter

fire

yes

fireplace

place

fire

yes

fireproof

proof

fire

no

fireworks

works

fire

no

fishtail

tail

fish

yes1

football

ball

foot

yes

footprint

print

foot

yes

forecast

cast

fore

no

foresee

see

fore

no

forget

get

for

yes

forgive

give

for

yes

fourfold

fold

four

yes

friendship

ship

friend

yes

gentleman

man

gentle

no

goldfish

fish

gold

yes

grandfather

father

grand

yes

grandmother

mother

grand

no

grandstand

stand

grand

no

grasshopper

hopper

grass

no

graveyard

yard

grave

no

greenhouse

house

green

no

groundnut

nut

ground

no

hailstorm

storm

hail

yes

hallway

way

hall

indeterminate

handcuff

cuff

hand

yes

headache

ache

head

yes1

headlight

light

head

yes1

headmaster

master

head

yes1

headmistress

mistress

head

yes1

heartbeat

beat

heart

indeterminate

heartbroken

broken

heart

yes

highway

way

high

indeterminate

homework

work

home

yes

honeycomb

comb

honey

yes

hookworm

worm

hook

indeterminate

horsefly

fly

horse

no

houseboat

boat

house

yes1

inside

side

in

yes

jawbone

bone

jaw

no

ladybug

bug

lady

yes

landlady

lady

land

no

landlord

lord

land

no

leadership

ship

leader

yes

leaflet

let

leaf

no

lengthwise

wise

length

no

lighthouse

house

light

yes1

loudspeaker

speaker

loud

no

masterpiece

piece

master

no

matchstick

stick

match

no

meatball

ball

meat

yes

moonlight

light

moon

yes

myself

self

my

no

necktie

tie

neck

no

newspaper

paper

news

no

nobody

body

no

no

offhand

hand

off

yes

online

line

on

yes

otherwise

wise

otherwise

no

outdoor

door

out

no

outfield

field

out

no

outfit

fit

out

no

outgrow

grow

out

yes

outlaw

law

out

no

outlet

let

out

yes

outnumber

number

out

no

outpatient

patient

out

no

outside

side

out

yes1

overboard

board

over

no

overdose

dose

over

no

overdue

due

over

no

pancake

cake

pan

yes1

partnership

ship

partner

yes

penknife

knife

pen

no

photocopy

copy

photo

yes

playground

ground

play

no

playroom

room

play

no

popcorn

corn

pop

no

postman

man

post

yes1

railway

way

rail

no

rainbow

bow

rain

no

raindrops

drops

rain

yes

rattlesnake

snake

rattle

yes1

ringworm

worm

ring

yes1

sandbags

bags

sand

yes

sandcastle

castle

sand

yes

sandpaper

paper

sand

yes

seafood

food

sea

no

seashore

shore

sea

no

seaweed

weed

sea

no

shipwreck

wreck

ship

yes1

shoestring

string

shoe

yes1

shortbread

bread

short

no

skateboard

board

skate

yes

skyscraper

scraper

sky

no

snowboard

board

snow

yes

snowstorm

storm

snow

yes

something

thing

some

no

soundproof

proof

sound

no

spaceship

ship

space

yes

staircase

case

stair

no

starlight

light

star

yes

stomachache

ache

stomach

no

strawberry

berry

straw

no

sunlight

light

sun

yes

sunshine

shine

sun

yes

superhuman

human

super

no

superimpose

impose

super

yes

supernatural

natural

super

yes

surfboard

board

surf

no

tailgate

gate

tail

yes1

teacup

cup

tea

no

teapot

pot

tea

no

thunderstorm

storm

thunder

yes

tightrope

rope

tight

yes

timetable

table

time

yes

tombstone

stone

tomb

yes

toolbox

box

tool

yes

toothbrush

brush

tooth

indeterminate

understand

stand

under

yes

wallpaper

paper

wall

yes1

wardrobe

robe

ward

no

warship

ship

war

yes

watermelon

melon

water

yes1

waterproof

proof

water

indeterminate

weekend

end

week

yes

wheelbarrow

barrow

wheel

yes

wheelchair

chair

wheel

yes

woodcutter

cutter

wood

indeterminate

woodland

land

wood

indeterminate

woodpile

pile

wood

yes

woodshed

shed

wood

yes

woodwork

work

wood

yes

woodworm

worm

wood

yes

yourself

self

your

no

TOTALS

190

190

76

80

24

500,000