Unless you’re an elementary school teacher or a linguist, you probably don’t use the term “compound words.” I’d never really heard it until talking to an elementary school teacher. Like many terms, once explained it seems very obvious: words that are combined to make 1 word or 1 idea. For example, “homework” or “rainstorm.” It’s kind of like how prefixes work only using recognizable stand-alone words instead of prefixes.
Of course, I learned these words so long ago that even though I use a variety of them all the time, I never really thought about how they were made – that is until someone told me about compound words (sorry, guys). Now, I can’t help but notice them and think about how they’re put together. Most of them make a lot of sense (You mean a lightsaber is a saber made out of light? Huh. But it’s not shaped like a saber…?), and they really show how literal and straightforward a lot of names are.
Then, there are the ones that don’t make much sense. In fact, they are either confusing or amusing when considered by their parts (especially for people like me with literal minds).
- skyscraper: How arrogant can you get? Really, people.
- honeymoon: He better not. Seriously, though, this apparently comes from the idea of affection waning like the moon. How pleasant.
- jackpot: This makes sense if you’re playing poker, and the pot is won by jacks. Otherwise…
- shoehorn: All I can think is that the term “horn” must have meant something very different back in the Renaissance. But if someone can make a musical shoehorn, I would probably buy it as a joke gift.
- jaywalk: Apparently, “jay” used to refer to a silly person. And here I thought it was a bird. Of course, that’s better than modern slang.
- ladyfingers: How did the person who named this not get hit? (You think my fingers look like what?)
- bookworm: Ok, I am a voracious reader, but this is a bit of a stretch.
- brainwash: Out with the old and in with the new? Or does this have more to do with the kind of cleaner you use? Or is it like a carwash?
- bulldoze: Right. Let’s name it after the one time the bull isn’t being destructive.
- quarterback: Apparently, this has to do with breaking the field into parts, but why “back”?
- nightmare: That’s right. Blame it on the horse. Actually, this one makes a lot more sense in Old English (night + mære [meaning incubus]).
- brimstone: It’s on the edge? Or it’s part of a hat? (Ok, ok. It’s from brynstān, Old English for burning stone.)
- aftermath: After math, I get to read a book or watch a movie. The real origin is much more depressing. I’m going to stick to the “once I’ve finished my homework” image.
- outstrip: I have this image of a pole dancing competition. Why is it so many puns are naughty?
I’m sure there are more. On the plus side, the ones that don’t make sense in modern English make for funny mental images (if anyone is good at photoshopping, these would make great mashups). Either way, enjoy!