To indicate an exemplar or someone well-respected within their own group or occupation, sometimes you see expressions like "man's man" or "lawyer's lawyer." Is there a name for this construction?

This isn't to be confused with someone who provides a service serving another in the same profession, like a lawyer defending another who's been sued.

Some examples of the expression:

Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post:

Enter Jack Tobin, a former Miami defense lawyer who made so much money “defending insurance companies in personal injury actions” that he retired early ... As the title of James Sheehan’s engaging thriller makes clear, Jack is a “lawyer’s lawyer,” and the case against the convict, Thomas Felton, cries out for a second look.

Imran Amed in The Business of Fashion:

As I later learned, Peter was a real editor’s editor, having mentored and trained writers who would become key staffers at some of New York’s most important and respected media organisations, from The New Yorker to The New York Times.

Gregory P. Kane in The Baltimore Sun:

Detective Brenda Leigh Higgs, a 15-year veteran, called Chief Johnson "a policeman's policeman" who "hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a policeman on the street."

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    Not for that construction in particular but it's an example of snowcloning
    – Neil W
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 3:40
  • A beneficent redundancy? Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 4:46
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    A peer-based plaudit? I've not come across a term in general use. Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 6:23

2 Answers 2


According to "Construction Grammar" (schema-based grammar), they are a type of constructional idiom [X's X]. Their concreteness level is almost abstract because they are not that lexically specified.

From the book "Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics: General papers" edited by Mike Darnell:

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Another explanation from the book "The Reality of Linguistic Rules" By Susan D. Lima, Roberta Corrigan, Gregory K. Iverson:

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They can also be a representation of formal (schematic) idiom.

From the article "Language and Cognition II Construction Grammar" by Prof. Holger Diessel:

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They fall under "genitive compounds" (descriptive genitives) also. So it can be called an "idiomatic genitive compound" as well.

Here is another passage along with the description of "constructional idiom": (from the book "The Grammar of Words: An Introduction to Linguistic Morphology By Geert Booij"

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  • +1 Great answer. I suspect, however, that 'constructional idiom' is not a unique descriptor of (X's X) but of a broader scope.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 5:45
  • @Kris: Thanks. I mentioned as a type of it. I don't think there is a unique descriptor for this idiomatic form.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 5:50
  • Yes, wonderful stuff. I'd have given you the usual sticker if you'd asked the question "What is a 'constructional idiom'?" and answered it yourself. Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 6:15
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    Excellent answer! I like the section from "Functionalism and Formalism" in particular, as it situates the idiom within a formal-concrete continuum. It's also written clearly. Is the rest of the book (and the others you cite) navigable by a (patient) lay person?
    – A Brooks
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 6:49
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    'Fixed Expressions and Idioms in English', by Rosamund Moon, is the most thorough monograph I've come across (though ermanem's sources look very good). It's lengthy, but readable. But I can't find a term specifically describing the construction an X's X. Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 7:17

I'd call that type of construction possessive reduplication. The examples on Wikipedia may not match exactly the one the OP is asking for, but its meaning is clear and sometimes words have to be bent a little, to fit our needs.

Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change.
Reduplication is used in inflections to convey a grammatical function, such as plurality, intensification, etc., and in lexical derivation to create new words. It is often used when a speaker adopts a tone more "expressive" or figurative than ordinary speech and is also often, but not exclusively, iconic in meaning.

The accepted meaning of "a man's man" is a man who enjoys men's activities and being with other men, i.e. the expression emphasizes the qualities of being a man. Likewise a lawyer's lawyers will imply that the person being compared personifies the typical or ideal lawyer. So perhaps the term emphatic reduplication or as suggested by @medica, intensifying reduplication, would be a more appropriate and accurate term.

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    Well, I'm not saying I fully disagree, but an explanation for the downvote would be appreciated.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 6:02
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    @ABrooks before awarding any answer, wait a bit. Someone might come up with a more convincing term.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 7:01
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    This article on contrastive reduplication contains: Thus the ‘scope’ of CR cannot be defined in purely phonological terms; rather, a combination of phonological, morphosyntactic, syntactic, and lexical factors is involved. Hmm. I'd say 'coffee coffee' is used to distinguish it from the undrinkable stuff. Similarly, a 'lawyer's lawyer' is (as opposed to the free one you get if you can't afford ...). So the pragmatics involved are similar. The genetive 's, as you say, is a formal point of difference. Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 7:39
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    @EdwinAshworth It kinda fits. Reduplication is, I believe, (no discredit to ermanen's fine research) more accessible for the average person.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 7:48
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    Thank you @EdwinAshworth for the link! I've only just read the paper, CR exists in Italian too e.g. occhi neri neri (really dark brown eyes (or) not just dark brown but brown brown eyes) Wierzbicka proposes instead that the communicative import of syntactic reduplication is to insist on the validity of what is said. She writes that “[i]n calling someone’s eyes neri neri the speaker insists that these eyes were ‘really’ black, literally black” Could it be the X's X idiom arose from "He's a man man." And subsequently the -'s was added, for reasons of euphony?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 12, 2014 at 13:07

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