Exocentric compound

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Exocentric Compound is a term used to refer to a particular type of compound, viz. compounds that lack a head. Often these compounds refer to pejorative properties of human beings. A Dutch compound such as wijsneus 'wise guy' (LIT. 'wise-nose') (in normal usage) does not refer to a nose that is wise. In fact, it does not even refer to a nose, but metonymically to a human being with a particular property. Similarly, the English compound smart-ass does not refer to a behind which is smart but to a person who is know-it-all smart. An alternative term used for such compounds is bahuvrihi compound. A different type of exocentric compound is the Danish word klodsmajor (LIT. 'klutz-major') which does not refer to a major who is clumsy, but merely to a clumsy person.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Kiparsky, P. 1982. From Cyclic Phonology to Lexical Phonology, in: Hulst, H. van der and N. Smith (eds.) The Structure of Phonological Representations (I), pp.131-175
  • Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological Theory, Blackwell, Oxford.