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In Chinese and Vietnamese sometimes a word is made up by listing its examples. For example, "table-chair" means furniture, "month-year" means time, "land-water" means country, "spring-summer-fall-winter" means the cycle of time, "birth-old-sickness-death" means the cycle of life. Of course words for "furniture" or "time" exist, but by using "table-chair" or "month-year", the alluded concepts are more flexible, fluid or open-ended.

For example, a chest, although is a piece of furniture, would never be considered as "table-chair" when you consider the word "table-chair" alone. But if you say you've bought "table-chair" for your new home, it is assumed that you've also bought chest, bed, fan, sofa, etc.

Some other best fruits of this:

  • spring-summer-fall-winter: after spring summer will come, after winter spring will come. Seasons are just an endless circle.
  • birth-old-sickness-death: even when you're healthy like a newborn, you'll ultimately get sickness, then get older, then die. Life is a sequence of stages.
  • joy-anger-love-hate: similar to "spring-summer-fall-winter"

I think commas can be used to list them as example and then explain the concepts like I just did above.

Question 1

Can native speakers feel the open-ended connotation if they read a translation of this kind of word? Can "spring, summer, fall, winter" evokes the feeling of the cycle of time in them, or is it just a list of seasons? I'm afraid that the component words are too specific so the native readers would overlook the implicitly concepts. What would be a good consideration to transfer the open-endedness in English?

Question 2

I am taking a next step by putting them together:

No alter formatting
Birth old sickness death, spring summer fall winter, joy anger love hate, these stages are so vividly clear.

Use commas
Birth, old, sickness, death; spring, summer, fall, winter; joy, anger, love, hate; these stages are so vividly clear.

Is it too much commas?


This phenomenon is called hyponymous juxtaposition (same type words stick together to create a cover word). The component words are called hyponyms, the cover words are called hypernyms. See What is the term for alluding to a more formless concept by listing its specific members?

  • "Can native speakers feel the open-endedness connotation if they read a translation of this kind of word?" Depends on the particular words. To me, birth-old-sickness-death seems clear enough; month-year and land-water don't. – Tushar Raj Mar 8 '18 at 13:11
  • What do you feel about "spring-summer-fall-winter" and "joy-anger-love-hate"? – Ooker Mar 8 '18 at 13:17
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    Safe for genericized trademarks, English doesn't do this. Obviously any human can understand what "birth-old-sickness-death" must mean, but if you use it in a translation from Chinese, it will sound just like that: a translation from Chinese. It will sound decidedly un-English. It is not something a native English speaker would produce. And yeah, month-year, land-water or table-chair are right out of the window. If you are shopping for furniture, you are shopping for furniture and not just chairs. (Though again, you totally might add a hoover and some sellotape to your cart.) – RegDwigнt Mar 8 '18 at 13:19
  • To give a better idea of what you mean by this open ended concept, and how an open ended concept of furniture differs from the concept of 'furniture', could you perhaps give is some example sentences? – Spagirl Mar 8 '18 at 14:08
  • @Spagirl a drawer, although is a furniture, would never be considered as "table-chair" when you consider the word "table-chair" alone. But if you say you've bought "table-chair" for your new home, it is assumed that you've also bought drawer, bed, fan, sofa, etc. – Ooker Mar 8 '18 at 16:07
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My current approach to question 2 is:

Life or death, right or wrong, love or hate, all of them are so vividly clear.

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