We usually use the word 'sick' to refer to something that you are tired of or don't like. So it is quite clear when we say

I'm sea-sick,

that we mean, one is sick of travelling by sea (eg: boat) due to the constant movement.

I think we can use the 'sick' postfix in different situations to mean the same negative feeling.

But is there are rule to indicate that you're sick of not having something?

For example, when we say that we're


we mean that we're missing home - thus the absence of home, and not of being at home.

So how would one identify that what is meant is having too much of something or missing it?

  • 2
    I do not see any conflict in feeling sick from missing home. The bigger conflict is when people say "That's sick" when they mean it is great
    – mplungjan
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:09
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    Sea-sick does not mean sick of travelling by boat, it means sickness brought on by the movement of the boat. To be "sick of" something is synonymous with being "tired of" something. Or worse . . . "sick and tired of something" :-) Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:21
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    Sea-sickness (mal-de-mer) is a medical condition. See the definition of sick in a dictionary: 1 affected by physical or mental illness. 2 feeling nauseous and wanting to vomit. Importantly, sick of is informal -- do not confuse it with the main word.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:22
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    To answer the actual question here: you cannot "identify what is meant". You just can't. You have to learn each word by heart. Just like everyone else, and just like for all compounds, not only the ones with sick. "If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?"
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 14:43
  • @mplungjan That's the whole point. Thus my question.
    – itsols
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 0:30

1 Answer 1


Compound words, and especially compound adjectives, are notoriously variable both in composition and sense in which the modifying part is modifying the head (if a head can be identified).

Hamawand, in Morphology in English: Word Formation in Cognitive Grammar identifies 12 senses in which the head may be modified. I think he misses

m. 'M is the agency of control and H the controlled / enslaved:

demon-possessed . . . . avarice-driven . . . . menu-driven (software)

(from the heads possessed and driven).

  • Very nice quoted examples. and I like that thought in the opening line: especially compound adjectives, are notoriously variable both in composition and sense. Never thought of that kind of explanation. Thanks!
    – itsols
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 0:28

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