I am doing an English Language AS Level past paper and in it is written "They all pop up in the film in a when-brands-collide whirlwind" and later on "Emmet is mistakenly drafted into a save-the-world mission".

What do you call a series of words ("when-brands-collide" and "save-the-world"), rather than just two, that are connected by hyphens?

Written in another part of the paper is "Thanks to the host of iconic characters, and unique cross-generational appeal, the bricks may be...". I believe "cross-generational" is a compound adjective. Am I right?

  • Compound words.
    – vickyace
    Apr 4, 2017 at 19:06
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    In your case, Hyphenated compound words.
    – vickyace
    Apr 4, 2017 at 19:13
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    They are compound words. Your examples are typical nonce-forms, concocted on-the-hoof, rather than well-established forms, and treated as single compound words. Restricted to attributive modifier function, they are best treated as compound adjectives. "Cross-generational", though, is fairly well-established, but again is treated as a compound adjective.
    – BillJ
    Apr 4, 2017 at 19:35
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    there has got to be something else to call this.. as I don't think the purpose is to form a new word but to emphasis that the words be understood in an idiomatic way. 'he-who-shall-not-be-named' or "oh-so-clever" are others examples... coined expressions? I don't know
    – Tom22
    Apr 4, 2017 at 20:48
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    I'd like to echo @Tom22 with my hope that there is a better term. Yes, they are multi-hyphenated-compound-words, but so is that right there, and the function is different. In the examples the hyphens allow verbed-phrases, which would otherwise confuse the reader, to read as adjectives. The hyphens, in a sense, neuter the verb function and tell the reader to read it as a phrase.
    – Unrelated
    Apr 6, 2017 at 3:05

2 Answers 2


I would suggest "hyphenated adjectives", as a) both your examples are adjectives; and b) correct me if I'm wrong, but most of these hyphenated compound words take the form of adjectives.

There is a great set of examples here.


Tmesis - the separation of parts of a compound word by an intervening word or words, used mainly in informal speech for emphasis (e.g. can't find it any-blooming-where ).

A great word for a great bit o' grammar.

  • Great word … but not the correct answer to this question. None of the asker's examples are tmesis.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 14, 2017 at 16:26

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