I’ve been wondering how there are some expressions made up of two words where the first word modifies the second one, but the first word is not necessarily an adjective that is commonly used to emphasize the meaning other words, for example: - Stark contrast - Pitch black

Are there any names related to this kind of language usage in English??

1 Answer 1


Multi-word sequences, like "dead end", which have a figurative meaning beyond the individual words, "dead" and "end", are called idioms. In some cases, certain words are primarily known through their use in idiomatic expressions, e.g. few people recognize that "pitch" is a petroleum product when they say "pitch black" or that "drab" is a rough cloth when they say "olive drab".

If the meaning of an idiom is easily understood from its individual words, as in "diamond ring", it is considered a transparent idiom.

If it is harder to understand the meaning of the idiom from its individual words, as in "dead end" or "raw deal", it is considered an opaque idiom.

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    I certainly would not call hot dog or ice cream idioms. They are common nouns that have been formed from two distinct words joined together. In each case, they started with an adjective in front of a noun, but they have evolved to be single and complete nouns in their own right. Many two-word nouns start as two separate words, then become hyphenated, and then become closed. (Although we might see deadend or even hotdog as closed nouns at some point, it doesn't seem likely to me that we'll have icecream any time soon.) However, many such nouns are not idioms. Apr 25, 2020 at 4:01
  • @JasonBassford You raise an excellent point. Certainly, there are noun combinations that we treat more like compound nouns (even though they retain a space) and are single lexical units as opposed to idioms. The adjective-noun combinations in the original post would be idioms in the Sinclairian sense. I agree hot dog would not qualify.
    – Rurik
    Apr 25, 2020 at 6:00

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