Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A compound word functioning as an adjective whose last element is in origin a noun. For example, in the phrase high-fiber diet, the compound high-fiber is a bahuvrihi modifying diet that ends in the noun fiber.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A type of nominal compound in which the first part modifies the second and neither part can be used alone while retaining the intended meaning. Examples include redcoat, bluestocking and lowlife.

Etymologies

Sanskrit bahuvrīhiḥ, having much rice (an example of the type) : bahu-, much + vrīhiḥ, rice.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Sanskrit बहुव्रीहि (bahú-vrīhi, "much rice"), itself a bahuvrihi from बहु (bahu, "much") and व्रीहि (vrīhi, "rice"), referring neither to much nor to rice, but to a person who has much rice, i.e. a rich man, one who has "much rice". (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Other details of Time's style, including strung-out attributive adjectives (bahuvrihi, to linguists), puns (paronomasia), and inverted word order (anastrophe) are also described in the Introduction, which one could only wish were more detailed.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XX No 1

Comments

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  • A compound word, ending with a noun, that does not function as a noun of that sort.

    e.g. sabretooth, bigwig, lazybones

    I seem to remember that Steven Pinker talks about these in "Words and Rules", as they often have 'interesting' plurals.

    Suppose you are visited by Mr and Mrs Bigfoot. Who would you say came over - "the Bigfoots" or "the Bigfeet"?

    November 16, 2008