I have written a story for children in Persian. Somewhere in the story, I have mentioned "pear". "Pear" In Farsi is gool-abbi, which translates literally as "blue flower". I have mentioned that as something that is neither blue nor a flower. Now I am about to translate the book into English and am looking for an exocentric compound in English that a 6- or 7-year-old English-speaking child can understand easily.
The line between endocentric and exocentric compounds is not always clear. For example, word meanings change. Today, a footprint is neither a foot nor a print, but print referred originally to any kind of mark or stamp, and thus footprint would have been endocentric. In other cases, the component retains its meaning as a standalone word, but it is overshadowed by a more common usage. A screwdriver is neither a screw nor a driver, in the sense of driver as the operator of a vehicle, but then driver refers to something which impels, as a screwdriver certainly does. And many compounds are analogies to begin with. An oxbow lake is neither an ox nor a bow, but was named because it is the same shape as a type of collar for an ox. Still other words appear to be compounds, but are not: polemarch is borrowed from ancient Greek, not from the union of pole and march. And so there is room to argue about the suitability of words like railroad, doughnut, headphone, skyscraper, gumdrop, and many others.
For children, it may be good enough to stick to contemporary uses, in which case I think the following should be uncontroversial:
Animals: butterfly, dragonfly, firefox, hedgehog, polecat, seahorse
Plants/flowers: bluebell, catnip, forget-me-not, honeydew, pineapple, snapdragon
Objects/Materials: cardboard, dreadnought, matchbook, moonshine, sawdust, touchstone, turtleneck, wardrobe
People: birdbrain, egghead, litterbug, pickpocket
Activities: brainstorm, fanfare, hogwash, honeymoon, potluck, shorthand
Places: carport, speakeasy
Mushroom was a word which I loved as a small child, there is no room in mush 1
A type of mushroom is a toadstool, which is neither a frog nor a type of chair or poo (stool)
And there is the silly old pun which still raises a smile.
Q: Why did the Mushroom get invited to all the parties?
A: Because he's a fungi! (fun guy)
Q: Why did the fungi leave the party?
A: There wasn't mushroom.
Q: Why do toadstools grow so closely together?
A: Because they don't need mushroom
I see other people are submitting half answers, so here are a few more:
- A “hot dot” is not a dog (and it needn’t be hot).
- A “hamburger” isn’t (supposed to be) made of ham.1
- While “strawberries” are berries, they have nothing to do with straw. (Except if they do; see discussions at Yahoo! Answers and Buzzle, with a dissenting minority report at Snopes.)
- You go to the “bathroom” for other reasons than to take a bath. Very few bathrooms contain bath tubs. (This one may be specific to American English.)
- And conversely, for the un-Americans (☺), “water closet”, which isn’t very much like any other closet.
1 A slightly amusing anecdote that might be a better fit on ELL: I know somebody from India, so English is his second (at least) language, and he’s a vegetarian. He knows what (ham)burgers are, and he knows that a “veggie-burger” is a burger made of vegetables – so he once ordered a “cheeseburger”, expecting it to be a vegetarian burger made of cheese and other non-meat products.
I'd suggest an alligator pear, which is neither an alligator (though it's green), nor a pear (though it's pear-shaped).