This week, word lovers, with the weather turning warm and our thoughts turning to ice cream and frozen drinks, it’s high time we talked about “frozen binomials.”

Say what? A frozen binomial is also called a “collocation,” which is the habitual juxtaposition of a particular word or words with a frequency greater than chance. Better?

OK. OK. Collocations are a series of words that occur together more often than we would expect.

Usually made up of two words and perhaps a conjunction, collocations or frozen binomials are words used together that, over time, have become fixed due to their repeated use. Without collocations, grammatically correct sentences could sound awkward. For instance, consider the fact that we usually talk about “strong tea” and a “powerful computer,” but rarely discuss “powerful tea” or a “strong computer.”

Collocations come in handy in telling the inspirational story of the woman who went from rags to riches after becoming tired of wearing mix-and-match clothes because of the wear and tear inflicted upon them by her aging washer and dryer. She made sure that everyone heard loud and clear about her cat-and-mouse struggle to overcome the odds.

There are seven types of collocations that can be made by using different combinations of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions. For example, “completely satisfied” and “richly decorated” are made up of an adverb and an adjective, while “excruciating pain” and “regular exercise” use adjectives and their nouns.

A “round of applause” and a “surge of pride” each contain two nouns, whereas explaining that the “bomb exploded” as the “snow fell” requires the use of nouns that precede verbs.

Inversely, if someone were to “make a bed” or “commit murder,” the verb comes before the noun, while verbs and adverbs team up to give us “softly whisper” and “vaguely remember.”

Finally, there are phrases in which the verb works with a preposition, and without them we’d never know that the sailor “burst into tears” when he “ran out of money.”

Even though they’re not included in the original seven types, there are also collocations that are made up of two verbs, such as “do or die,” or a pair of adjectives, such as “short and sweet.”

Some collocations even include rarely used fossil words (remember those from last week?). Some examples of those are when we work with “vim and vigor” to help our “kith and kin” make everything “spick and span.”

Collocations can be either figurative, such as “surf and turf” and “nip and tuck,” or literal, as when we need some money for a little “rest and relaxation,” so we go to the “savings and loan” to get some.

By the way, if you really want to save some money, shop at the “five and dime,” and be sure not to be “nickel and dimed” during your next new-car purchase.

And that’s the give and take on collocations — give or take a little.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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