There are few other ones I've thought of and forgotten, but it seems there are some words in English that although seemingly very general, are actually very narrow in usage.

Like the word "figment" - it's always followed by the same 2-3 words in 99.9% of cases.

I had a list of others, but forgot them at the moment.

It's most common to discover when teaching someone else English, I've found.

Is there a list of these, and do they have a name, or are they just a random musing? Just curious.

And can you think of other examples?


1 Answer 1


There is a name for fixed expressions/idioms containing words not found elsewhere: cranberry collocations.

From Fixed Expressions and Idioms in English: A Corpus-based Approach. (Rosamund Moon; 1998):

5.1.3 Cranberry Collocations While most lexemes in the general lexicon never occur in [fixed expressions / idioms], a few never occur outside FEIs. Many of these are rare fossil words, or have been borrowed from other languages or varieties, and they include ... [Moon lists about 40 such words, in three separate subclasses for convenience of further analysis].

I've added the nebulous slash between fixed expressions and idioms because an idiom must be a fixed expression: one utilising a peculiar sense of a word / a non-compositional meaning for the expression, or unusual syntax (or both).

The term 'cranberry collocation' is derived from the term 'cranberry morpheme' ('cran', appearing in no other lexeme, being the founder member of the class).

The request for a list of cranberry collocations (or any list) is off-topic.

  • Thanks. I've also found a similar but not identical classification of "fossil words" but that seems like it's not quite the same thing. They are words that are "obsolete except for use in a current idiom". Can't say I can exactly tell the difference. But at least they are interesting starting points to investigate.
    – user45867
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:09
  • 1
    Here's the link to "Fixed expressions .... by Rosamund Moon" - (PDF Download), if you want to add it to your answer... Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:11
  • Thanks, DS. I lost track of it and thought it had been paywalled. It's a fine resource. Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:20
  • Note that Moon distinguishes 'fossil words' from 'borrowings from other languages or varieties of language (she gives, for example, 'kibosh', though I believe it has now been verbed)', and that both occur in cranberry collocations. Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:27
  • I thought an idiom was a fixed expression where the combined meaning is different from that of the literal words.
    – StephenS
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 17:27

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