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Compound words like SNOWMAN etc, are obvious compound words in Modern English, as both words that make up the compound word exist as words in Modern English.

However, words like SHEPHERD aren't words made up of 2 actual English words (SHEP isn't a word in Modern English), but was originally a compound word in Old English (the word originates from Middle English schepherde, from Old English sċēaphierde, a compound of sċēap (“sheep”) and hierde (“herdsman”)) or a compound word in another language like Latin for example. In these instances, would these words (words that seem like compound words but aren't made up of 2 actual English words) be defined as "compound words" in Modern English?

Secondly, is https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_compound_words a reliable/accurate source for identifying whether a specific word is a compound word?

EDITED FOR CLARIFICATION: I'm sorry for the vagueness of the question, as I'm asking as layman who's confused about the conditions for a word to be defined as a compound word. For clarification, I'm referring only to closed compound words (just a single word) and more specifically words being spelled/written out. And my interpretation of compound words matches what Edwin Ashworth has quoted, 'Compounding derives a new word by joining two morphemes that would each usually be free morphemes.' and I define a free morpheme as 'a morpheme that can stand alone as its own word'. My issue with SHEP in SHEPHERD is that SHEP isn't a word in the dictionary, which is why I am uncertain as to whether SHEPHERD meets the requirement to be a compound word.

My questions are: (Q1): is SHEPHERD a compound word?

(Q2): does a (closed) compound word have to be made up of 2 or more english words that exist in the dictionary (SNOW+MAN = SNOWMAN)? (whereas shep is typically not a word in the dictionary, thus I do not think of it as a free morpheme)

(Q3): if the answer to (Q1) is yes, did SHEPHERD inherit its status as a compound word due to it evolving from the Old English "sċēaphierde" which is a compound word formed by sċēap and hierde?

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    You need a scholarly article or two looking at compounds, and it's quite possible that they will say that there are different stipulative definitions in use for 'compound' in the linguistics sense. Certainly though, this definition 'Compounding derives a new word by joining two morphemes that would each usually be free morphemes.' Essentials of Linguistics by Catherine Anderson strongly suggests that 'Latin compounds', at least, form a disjoint set. Feb 16 at 17:08
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    I would say this is a fool's errand. In addition to EA's comment there's the fact that many English words were imported from Germanic languages where compounding words was simply a part of the syntax.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 16 at 17:11
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    @tchrist I agree with Edwin Ashworth. In fact, I was in the process of writing an answer, mostly drawn from CGEL that does address this very issue by contrasting blackmail, which they say has a compound base, to that of blackguard ( /blaega:rd/), which they say does not despite the fact that, etymologically, it is formed from black and guard. The other issues you raise are also covered in Ch. 19 of CGEL, but I, at least, think that OP's main question can be fairly read as not being as broad as that, since the OP explicitly is asking about the relevance of etymology. Feb 16 at 17:40
  • I'm sorry for the vagueness of the question. For clarification, I'm referring only to closed compound words (just a single word) and more specifically words being spelled out, and I'm asking as layman who's confused about the conditions for a word to be defined as a compound word.
    – nofil88776
    Feb 16 at 17:57
  • My questions are: (Q1): is SHEPHERD a compound word? (Q2): does a compound word have to be made up of 2 or more english words that exist in the dictionary (SNOW+MAN = SNOWMAN)? (whereas shep is typically not a word in the dictionary) (Q3): if the answer to (Q1) is yes, did SHEPHERD inherit its status as a compound word due to it evolving from the Old English "sċēaphierde" which is a compound word formed by sċēap and hierde?
    – nofil88776
    Feb 16 at 17:58
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At least one highly regarded authoritative source, CGEL, would say that etymology is not a reliable guide to whether a word should be considered a compound one or not. Here is the relevant segment (p. 1627); the relevant paragraph is the second one, but I include the first one for context.

Morphological analysability vs etymology

Words are most clearly analysable into constituent parts when the latter occur with the same or similar meaning elsewhere, as with bed·​room, un·​kind, soft·​ness, etc. But this is by no means a necessary condition for analysability. There is no difficulty in recognising straw·​berry and draw·​ing·​room as compounds even though the meaning of the whole is not predictable from the meanings of the component bases: it is enough that the second base is formally and semantically identifiable with the berry and room that occur as separate words or in semantically more transparent compounds like black·​berry and bed·​room. Similarly with derivative bases like dur·​able and the others listed in [2ii], event hough affixes characteristically have less specific meanings than bases. There are even cases where neither component contributes a clearly separable component of meaning to the whole. The meaning of black·​mail, for example, is not predictable from the meanings of black and mail as independent words, but black remains easily recognisable as a separate morphological unit because it occurs in a considerable number of compounds and phrases where it likewise does not have its literal meaning: blackleg, blacklist, blacksmith, black magic, black mark, black market, black spot, and so on.

The case of blackmail is to be distinguished from that of blackguard. Blackmail is morphologically analysable but semantically opaque as a result of historical change. (The original meaning of the mail component was "coin, rent" and with black having the meaning "illicit" still seen in black market: the compound was interpretable as "illicit money".) But with blackguard historical change has resulted in the loss of /k/ from black, and /blæɡɑːd/ is now a simple base, not a compound: the first syllable is neither phonologically nor semantically identifiable with /blæk/. The original base black is retained in the spelling, but this can be seen as a reflection of the historical source rather than as a justification for treating blackguard as a compound. Compare, similarly, /kʌbəd/ cupboard, /ˈbrɛkfəst/ breakfast, and so on. With husband even the orthography gives no indication of the original compounding of house and bonda "householder", a word which has now vanished from the language. Any analysis of such words as blackguard, cupboard, breakfast, husband, and the like belongs therefore to the field of etymology, the study of the historical source of words, not to the field of morphology, the study of the grammatical structure of words. There is nothing in the present-day language system to motivate an analysis of such words into smaller morphological units.

Q1. If we adopt CGEL's criteria, it would seem that shepherd would not be considered as having a compound base.

Q2. Setting aside compound bases for a moment, let's first note that, in general, the base need not be a separate word in a dictionary. A base that can stand on its own is called free; otherwise it's bound. (CGEL, p. 1625). Some examples of English words with bound bases are dur·​able, dur·​ation, aggress·​ive, pre·​empt, and dis·​perse.

Getting back to compounds, there doesn't seem to be any rule of English morphology that would prohibit compounds consisting of more than one bound base. They are likely to be quite rare, but I would suggest regi·cide as an example.

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    Dang it, you swiped my cranmorphs! :)
    – tchrist
    Feb 16 at 19:27
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    Q1. If we adopt CGEL's criteria, it would seem that shepherd would not be considered as having a compound base. CGEL seem to be proposing that if one of the words of a compound word has morphed away from a recognised word, then it is no longer a compound word. Forgive me, there seems to be some Alice in Wonderland about that.
    – Greybeard
    Feb 16 at 20:16
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Relevant (from A.Word.A.Day):

This week’s guest wordsmith Janet Rizvi (janetrizvi at gmail.com) writes:

Anu is fond of tosspot words, also words made of combining forms. But I don’t think he’s featured a week of what I’d call double-noun words. Perhaps it would be fun to consider what happens when two nouns run together to make a new concept.

In his theme of words relating to space, Anu used light-year and moon shot. I would probably have written “light year” and “moonshot”. Is either of us wrong, or right?

German is unapologetic about stringing words together without hyphens to express a complex idea; either snappy two-item numbers like Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude, or stretching to the horizon like Vierwaldstätterseedampfschiffgesellschaft (Lake Lucerne Steamship Company), spotted by my mother 90 years ago and never forgotten.

English, by contrast, rarely amalgamates more than two words. And there doesn’t seem to be any rule for hyphenating or not hyphenating compound words, or leaving them separate. Seems a bit arbitrary, depending on the mindset (mind-set?) of the writer. Even The Chicago Manual of Style, the writer’s bible, doesn’t give clear guidance.

You could theorize that when a combination of two nouns becomes common currency, initially the words are simply juxtaposed (master class, income tax), gradually a hyphen insinuates itself (light-year, water-closet), and as the compound word becomes more and more familiar the hyphen is dropped (steamship, masthead).

Finally, the two words bond so closely that it’s an effort to recall that they were ever separate (shepherd, rainbow). You could also theorize that longer words tend to remain separate. “Class distinction” has been around for a long time without the words joining together; and conversely, “witchcraft” contradicts the possible theory that an unwieldy cluster of consonants might be an obstacle to words welding together.

Still, I can discern no hard and fast rule; and I’ve noticed that double-noun words coined to meet the needs of the digital age tend to skip straight to the last stage of the process I’ve theorized, with no separation and no hyphen (photoshop, website).

These are all double nouns used as nouns, as “you need to work on your anger management”. But I think when you use them as adjectives, the separated ones do need a hyphen: I for one would certainly go for an anger-management course, or complete my income-tax return. So for this week, I offer five double-noun words, with or without hyphens, run together or separate, as I would present them. See if you agree or not.

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