Thursday, 21 May 2015

What's a Dvandva?

Whiskey being poured into a glass
Well it will be when he adds the soda ...
(photo by Can Mustafa Ozdemir)


Noun. More fully dvandva compound. Mid-19th century. 
[Sanskrit dvandva from dva two.]

LINGUISTICS. A compound word containing two elements as if joined by and, as whiskey-soda.

A dvandva is a type of compound word, common in other languages, in which two nouns which could be connected by and are joined together. Examples include: player-manager, secretary-treasurer, father-daughter, mother-son and ... well ... I just can't think of any more. We just don't seem to have that many in English. I like the word, however, because it's pretty much unadulterated Sanskrit, has a nifty pronunciation (dvan-dvuh), and would be an absolute killer of a word to play in Scrabble. Who's gonna see that DV combination coming? No one! That's who! Other than that, it's pretty useless.

Do you know any other dvandvas?

Do please compound the situation by leaving your most conjoined comments in the conjugal box below.


  1. How about 'co-author'? The OED shows it hyphenated.

    You say you can't think of any more. Just look through your comments on Dysphemism where there are three. Hate-filled; Knife-wielding and Bum-fodder.

    1. Ah, but ... I'm afraid hate-filled, knife-wielding and bum-fodder aren't dvandvas, because you can't join their constituent words with 'and'.

      It has to be something like gin and tonic, which is then shortened to just gin-tonic (which hasn't happened).

      Not so easy, is it?

    2. Some argue that there are no dvandvas in English and the examples that are given like "actor-director", "maidservant", "bittersweet" etc. are in fact really just linguistic forms of compounds?
      The "actor-director" example would be classed as an appositional compound ie. "actor-director" where A ("actor") and B ("director") provide different descriptions for the same referent. While the "bittersweet" example would be a copulative compound as A (bitter) + B (sweet) denotes 'the sum' of what A and B denote.
      However, there are certain toponyms in English which act under the definition of dvandva compounds: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Schleswig-Holstein but even these are far and few between.

    3. It’s my impression that the concept embodied in the word dvandva is that the two connected entities have lost their “separateness” such that “saying farewell” is both acrid and mellifluous simultaneously (and with neither predominating). Thus “actor-director” wouldn’t qualify (you are either filling one role or the other). Neither would “secretary-treasurer” not the European toponyms mentioned.
      I’m not sure I can think of any off the top of my head other than “bittersweet”. Perhaps “schadenfreude” but that’s plainly someone’s fun and another person’s misery.

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