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What is the name for words that are contrasting counterparts or near opposites to each other in some context, but are not generally strict antonyms?

Some examples with word1 word2 (example context):

  • boys girls (sex or gender roles)
  • man machine (discussion of technological division of labor)
  • data control (standard digital hardware architecture)
  • plants animals (high-school level cellular biology)
  • shoes socks (standard layers of footwear)
  • weapons armor (two distinct types of equipment in a game)
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1 Answer 1

These are referred to as collocations. A nice informal definition:

A collocation is two or more words that often go together. These combinations just sound "right" to native English speakers, who use them all the time.

Wikipedia has a much weightier take on the subject.

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I've always understood collocation to refer to words that come in sequence (like crystal clear), not words that are simply counterparts to one another. –  onomatomaniak Nov 16 '11 at 9:40
You may be right; I think I latched onto the OP's "man machine" example and ran with that. The OP's examples aren't quite cooccurrences either, though. –  Gnawme Nov 16 '11 at 17:28

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