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I can't figure it out. I've seen both been used, but a nugget is presumably gold, or can golden be used as well?

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Both meanings overlap, but not perfectly.

"Golden nugget" is ambiguous. It isn't clear if you mean that the nugget is made of gold, or if the nugget is golden in color.

"Gold nugget" indicates that the nugget is made of gold.

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    It's nowhere near that clear-cut. Countless millions of kids get a gold star for good quality schoolwork, but practically none of them would actually be made of gold. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 16:09
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    @FumbleFingers - It's not clear-cut for the word gold(en) in general, but it's pretty clear-cut when nugget is added. A golden nugget could turn out to be pyrite. A gold nugget is, or should be, composed of gold.
    – phenry
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 16:18
  • To the extent that legal society informs language, in the US (and maybe other countries) there are regulations about the use of the term gold when applied to metals. That doesn't mean common parlance will follow those rules.
    – bib
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 16:32
  • @phenry: I think it would be more reasonable to classify gold nugget as a "fixed phrase" (which we all expect to mean a nugget of gold). Given that the precise opposite occurs with the goose's golden egg referenced in my comment to the question, I don't see that one example as relevant to the general case. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 16:48
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    @FumbleFingers And there is rarely an investigation to see if the Fifth Day of Christmas is being fraudulently caroled.
    – bib
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 17:09

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