• bahuvrihi •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A compound noun or adjective comprising two words, A and B, which means "having a B that is A", such as high-potency in high-potency vitamins. A is usually an adjective and B, a noun, though A may be a noun, as in egghead.
Notes: Bahuvrihis differ from other compounds in that they have no head. In the compound birdhouse, house is the head and bird, the modifier, because a birdhouse is a house. But a halfwit is not half a wit but rather someone who has half a wit, making halfwit a bahuvrihi. Bahuvrihi compounds are found in all languages. In Greek we find rododaktylos "rosy-fingered" (dawn), in Latin magnanimus "great-minded". They are very common in English: hatchback and Red Sox are bahuvrihis; so are tenderfoot, highbrow, and longhair.
In Play: Let's say someone calls you "dogbreath". You could get angry and let them win the verbal duel with this blunt challenge. Alternatively, you could parry and thrust with this line: "Is that the best bahuvrihi you can come up with?" Then claim, "Touché," and walk away, leaving the aggressor in mental and spiritual disarray with no dictionary to shield himself.
Word History: Today's word is itself a Sanskrit bahuvrihi, from bahuvrihih "having much rice", made up of bahu- "much" + vrihih "rice". Although the original meaning was "having much rice", it was also used in the sense "rich". (Luis Alejandro Apiolaza may not be rich in rice but he is rich in fascinating words like this one, which his alter ego, Uncronopio, brought up in the Alpha Agora.)
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