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Some 35 Frisian complex nouns consist of a verb plus a phrase. The latter is usually a PP. Examples are stek-yn-'e-bûs put-into-the-pocket for a small person, or sit-yn-'t-nêst sit-in-the-nest for a lazy woman. As can be detected from these examples, many formations, in particular those denoting persons, are pejorative and invoke a strong metaphoric picture. Their morphological expandability is restricted.

[+]The pattern

Some Frisian complex words forming a noun consist of a verb followed by a phrase. The form of the verb is identical to the stem. The phrase is a PP, with one exception where it is adverbial. This is the word kom-al-den-dei come-all-the-day, which refers to a common, daily, well-known phenomenon or event.

If the phrase is prepositional, it always contains a noun that is preceded by a definite article, i.e. common de (or its reduced form 'e) or neuter it. The only exception is tink-oan-my think of me forget-me-not; marsh bedstraw, which has a personal pronoun.

Some examples with prepositional phrases are listed below. The formations are usually spelled with hyphens, to mark that they are felt as constituting one word:

Table 1
First constituent (V) Second constituent (PP) Compound
stekke to put yn 'e bûs in the pocket stek-yn-'e-bûs small person
stean to stand yn 'e wei in the way stean-yn-'e-wei obstacle
sitte to sit yn 't nêst in the nest sit-yn-'t-nêst lazy woman
sjitte to shoot yn 'e sûpe in the buttermilk sjit-yn-'e-sûpe calf which clumsily sticks his snout in the trough with buttermilk
strike to smooth yn 't laadsje in the drawer stryk-yn-'t-laadsje profit

These formations have common gender. The word stryk-yn-'t-laadsje profit, being neuter, seems to be the only counterexample, possibly as an effect of the animacy hierarchy. The stress is always on the first constituent, i.e. on the verb, as for instance in stek-yn-'e-bûs small person.

The pattern at hand reminds one of a verb and a single adposition. The main difference is that the adpositional part is more specific here. Another difference is stress, which is on the verbal part here.


The array of denoted concepts is restricted. Most formations refer to persons. For example, a long, slim (and slack) person is described by means of the verb slingerje to wind. No less then six nouns can be chosen to figure in the PP. So, this kind of person can be a slinger-om-'e-kersebeam wind-around-the-cherry tree, slinger-om-'t-kezyn wind-around-the-window frame, slinger-om-'e-latte wind-around-the-slat, slinger-om-'e-mêst wind-around-the-mast, slinger-om-'e-stile wind-around-the-post and slinger-om-'e-tûke wind-around-the-branch. A small person is a stek-yn-'e-bûse put-into-the-pocket. A crippled person is a hip-op-'e-tean hop-on-the-tone. A busy (and in case of woman also light) person is a fljoch-om-'e-hikke fly-around-the-gate, fljoch-om-'e-hutte fly-around-the-hut, fljoch-om-'t-hea fly-around-the-hay or fljoch-om-'t-hear fly-around-the-surroundings. A lazy person who prefers to stay at home is a spring-om-'e-hurd jump-around-the-hearth, in case of a feminine version more specifically a sit-yn-'t-nêst sit-in-the-nest. And a skyt-yn-'e-broek shit-in-the-trousers is a coward.

Not all formations refer to persons, however. Slinger-om-'e snút wind-around-the-snout is gruel, and one can refer to thick pea soup by slinger-om-'e-bek wind-around-the-trap or slinger-om-'e-leppel wind-around-the-spoon. The abstract concept of profit is represented by stryk-yn-'t-laadsje stroke-into-the-drawer.DIM. Two formations refer to an activity, although this is restricted to children's games. These are ferlos-oan-'e-peal free-on-the-pole (a kind of hide-and-seek) and slinger-om-'e-sturt wind-around-the-tail (a variant of tagging).

In addition, the pattern may encompass some biological species. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea L.) is krûp-troch-de-tún creep-through-the-garden. The forget-me-not (Myosotis L.) has a comparable pattern in Frisian ferjit-my-net forget-me-not, but also the synonym tink-oan-my think-of-my, which is also the name for marsh bedstraw. Finally, the bird great tit (Parus major) is called skyt-yn-'t-fjoer shit-into-the-fire. We also have a mammal. A calf that is extremely eager in drinking is called a sjit-yn-'e-sûpe shoot-into-the-drink.


It is clear that these formations are not endocentric but exocentric. The small person denoted by stek-yn-'e-bûs put-into-the-pocket can neither be connected to the verb stekke to put nor to the noun bûs(e) pocket.

Rather, it seems to be the case that the verb plus the PP functions as a predicate to which the entity denoted functions as a subject or object (or possibly better: as an Agent or Patient). Most verbs that occur in these formations are intransitive. An example is fleane to fly. A role of Agent is then the obligatory choice, and this is indeed what we see in e.g. fljoch-om-'e-hikke fly-around-the-gate, a word denoting a busy person. Moreover, the role of Agent fits perfectly with the inherent meaning of a busy person. A lazy woman is called a sit-yn-'t-nêst sit-in-the-nest, designating inactivity. Again, sitte to sit is an intransitive verb.

Only a few cases call for an interpretation as object (or Patient). Necessarily, a transitive verb is involved. One is stekke to put. A small person is called a stek-yn-'e-bûs put-into-the-pocket, where the interpretation is clearly that the person is so small that he or she even could be put into a pocket. The other case is stryk-yn-'t-laadsje stroke-into-the-drawer.DIM denoting the concept of profit. As profit is non-animate, it is natural that it fills the Patient role, where the image is that it is this which is swept into the drawer. A doubtful case is the long, slim, slack person that is described with the help of the verb slingerje to wind. The most plausible interpretation is that such a person winds himself round the mentioned objects, but a Patient reading in which the person is wound cannot be fully excluded.

The same verb slingerje is a source of other types of uncertainty. One is that conversion cannot be fully excluded, i.e. the observed form slinger might also be a noun, meaning swing or festoon. A few other verbal forms in the pattern can possibly be interpreted nominally as well. This is not to say, however, that the first element of the pattern is never verbal. The question now arises which verbal form? The verbal stem, or possibly the form of the imperative? In answering this question the very form slinger is relevant. If it is verbal, then it must be the stem, since this representative of the weak verbs of class II would provide the form slingerje as the form for the imperative. In addition, the assumption that the form slinger represents the verbal stem would be in line with the basic idea that inflected forms cannot be at the basis of word formation. The form fljoch, of the irregular verbfleane to fly, as for example in fljoch-om-'e-hikke, might be a counterexample at first sight, but it appears that this verbal form occurs in other cases of word formation as well, e.g. in fljogger busy bee and in fljoggerij flying, with the suffixes -er and -erij, respectively. Hence, the form fljoch- may figure as verbal stem.

[+]Productivity and style

A quick search of the comprehensive dictionary WFT (Veen 1984-2011) reveals a total number of about 35 instances of this pattern, but only some 15 different verbs are involved. It therefore cannot be claimed that the pattern is productive.

The formations denoting persons are often pejorative, as are the few names for edible stuff. At the same time, many have a humoristic effect and are striking for the strong image that is evoked.

[+]Morphological and syntactic properties

The formations are used especially in a predicative position, for instance in contexts like dat is in .... that is a .... This is possibly due to the affective description that is inherent to these complex words. In line with this syntactic preference, plurals and diminutives are rare, although not excluded. A further role in derivation or compounding has not been observed.

  • Veen, Klaas F. van der (ed.)1984-2011Wurdboek fan de Fryske Taal - Woordenboek der Friese Taal
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