From the moment we start to learn the English language, we start to learn collocations.
In linguistics, a collocation is two words, though it can be more than two, which go together. They will often have an “and” between them, but not always.
The important thing, however, is that we recognise not just that they go together but that they go together in a particular order.
Examples would be: trials and tribulations, or law and order, or high and dry. It would sound odd to us if anyone said order and law, dry and high, or tribulations and trials. It might not be wrong, but it certainly wouldn’t sound right.
You might confuse a hotelier if you asked for breakfast and bed, or entreat a disc jockey to play roll and rock records. You could find out what works through error and trial, and go fro and to while doing it, though your efforts may prove to be void and null.
The more you think about collocations, the more you will recognise the ones you habitually use.
Some of them, to quote our linguist friends again, are known as “non-reversible pairs”. These have to be in their proscribed order. For goodness’ sake, don’t confuse “touch and go” with “go and touch”. You’d probably be arrested.
It is one of the more difficult parts of the language (along with idioms) for those learning English. The collocations might not exist in other languages, or translations of the words might have slightly different nuances.
There are words that are often put together that are beginning to be used only in a collocation.
The only time you see shrift these days is in “short shrift”. “Back and forth” is helping keep forth in common usage, and both “hummed” and “hawed” would be in danger of extinction if they weren’t in the collocation “hummed and hawed”. When did you last “haw” at anything?
We should be thankful for collocations for the survival of these venerable and valuable words.
I’ve always liked “fast and furious” with its use of “furious” to mean not angry, but full of energy and/or intensity.
The collocation has been saved, to a degree, by a slew of films and sequels titled Fast And Furious. My gratitude is tainted, however, by the fact that the films are plot-free nonsense-tales about cars driven too fast by idiots.
You can see that, free, on the A92.
Word of the week
Confession, especially to a priest. In the phrase “short shrift”: leading to swift and unsympathetic dismissal . E.G: “Some movie plots deserve short shrift”.
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