The English word, “scarecrow,” spontaneously came to mind the other day, and I realized just how similar this word is to other words and phrases in other languages.
For example, there are many commonly used nouns in Spanish that are formed by conjoining a transitive verb with its object (with the verb preceding the object, just like in the word, “scarecrow”) (e.g. “trabalengua” (lit. “twist tongue”) means “tongue twister,” and “lavaplato” (lit. “wash plate”) means “dishwasher”). In Chinese, there may be entire phrases and sentences which may be perceived to be verb phrases (especially within the framework of English or Western grammar), when they are actually meant to be perceived as “states”/“events”/“nouns” (not principally being some form of action).
I was wondering if there is a name for this kind of construction. This kind of construction seems rare in English - am I right? So far, I have only been able to think of “scarecrow.”
After some thought, the comparison I made between "scarecrow" and entire Chinese sentences/phrases is not a fair one. It seems like I was conflating exocentric compounds and endocentric compounds.
Consider, for example, the Chinese dictionary entry, “大爷 : 尊称年长的男子” (word by word, this phrase translates to: “大爷 (Sir) : 尊称 (respectfully-address) 年长的男子 (elder-gentleman)”). A proper direct translation for this dictionary entry would be: “Sir: respectfully address an elder gentleman.” Granted, what the word, “大爷,” represents is not some kind of action that can be expressed via a verb phrase, but rather a form of address. Therefore, a more natural translation for this dictionary entry would be: “Sir: a respectful address towards an elder gentleman.”
Now, let’s analyze “scarecrow.” “Scarecrow” is comprised of the verb, “scare,” and the object, “crow,” both separate words of which, when put together, can make up the verb phrase, “scare (a) crow.” The verb phrase in the direct English translation of the Chinese dictionary above can be, for our purposes, be reduced to “respectfully-address-(a)-gentleman” (“尊称男子”); this verb phrase contains the verb phrase, “respectfully-address,” and the object, “gentleman.” Unlike the word, “scarecrow,” the phrase, “respectfully-address-(a)-gentleman,” (which, in Chinese, may be considered to act as a single unit) does not refer to the perpetrator of the action, but rather the verbal noun (“address”) that relates to the action (“addressing”). In this context, wouldn’t we be able to say that this phrase mimics an endocentric compound? It seems like we could say that “respectfully-address-(a)-gentleman” is a noun that inherits the constituent, “address,” or “respectfully-address.”
As a matter of fact, endocentric compounds seem to be abundant in Chinese not only in the form of longer phrases and sentences, but also in the form of shorter phrases or words. For example: “煮鸡蛋” (lit. “boil egg”) means, “boiled egg.” (from the Chinese dictionaries I’ve used, the character/word, “煮” (“boil”), is NOT assigned any part of speech that is not “verb”)
Perhaps, earlier, I was conflating exocentric compounds and endocentric compounds (and thus made the comparison between “scarecrow” and endocentric compounds in Chinese).