Word of the Week: Eyeblink

June 22, 2015


As you may have picked up on, I am a lover of Swedish (see here and here). Going through the Duolingo Swedish course is providing me with a lot of delight and inspiration right now. For example, the Time module has  reminded me of a few lovely Swedish words.

There’s årtionde “decade”, lit. ‘year-ten’, and århundrade “century”, lit. ‘year-hundred’. There’s the particularly lovely årstid “season”, lit. ‘year’s-time’.

But my favourite is ögonblick “moment”: literally, ‘eyes-blink’.

Notice that all of these Swedish words are what I call “phrase-words“: phrases which have been condensed into a word. I propose using such phrase-words more often in English. I consider such formations to be “implied English”; that is, they don’t happen to exist in any dictionary, but they are implied by the mechanisms of the language.

The literal English oversetting of the above Swedish words doesn’t quite work in English. “Year-ten”, “year-hundred”, “year’s-time”, and “eyes-blink” have a distinctly Germanesque smack to them. However, we can make phrase-words of “ten years”, “hundred(s of) years”, “time of the year”, and “blink of an eye” in a style most English. I put forward:

ten-year, hundred-year, year-time, eye-blink (with or without the dashes as one sees fit).

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the phrases “ten years”, “time of the year”, and so on. And I would definitely advise people to use “In the last ten years”, and its ilk, instead of “In the last decade”. But when one needs to use a single word to encompass this phrase, as one does from time to time, let’s use the impled English phrase-words instead of complex Latinate jargon.

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© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


November 4, 2012

English has a long and noble history of turning phrases into words. From ancient times (“every” <OE æfre ælc, ‘ever each’), to less ancient times (“nevertheless” <MidE neuer þe lesse), to very recently (“wannabe” from “want to be”). These words which are (were) concentated phrases, I call “phrasewords”.

There are many “plain” English equivalents of Greco-Latin or French words which are phrasal with no phraseword form. For example, “to imagine” or “mentally picture” can be rendered “to see in one’s mind’s eye”. I think we can phraseword this as “mind-see”. A phraseword I’ve been using for years now is “forelast”, meaning “penultimate”, derived from the phrase, “the one before the last one”.

It seems that when you start to look into it, there are many such plain English phrases with Greek-Latin-French one word counterparts which we could readily form phrasewords from. This is a kind of extended type of making noun forms of phrasal verbs: get away (verb) –> get-away (noun).

How many phrasewords can you think of?

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