Dictionary.com Word FAQs
Why are some phrases defined in a dictionary, while others are not?
Some lexemes are composed of more than one orthographic word. When two independent lexemes come together to form a new lexeme with a specialized meaning, then the lexicographer must decide whether or not to include this compound word as an entry in a dictionary (for example, ice cream). The other type of multi-word lexeme for the lexicographer to consider is the phrase. Phrasal lexemes have a number of common structures: 1) noun + preposition + noun (e.g., age of consent, cash on delivery, meals on wheels), 2) possessive noun + noun (e.g., athlete's foot, collector's item, traveler's check), and 3) two words of the same type (noun, verb, adjective) joined by and (e.g., bells and whistles, down and out, nip and tuck). This last structure is sometimes called a binomial. There are also a few trinomials (e.g., hop, skip, and jump; hook, line, and sinker). Other types of phrasal lexemes are: 4) verb + adverb (particles, e.g., break up, give in, waste away), and 5) idioms ranging from phrases to whole sentences in which the meaning is more than the meaning of the sum of its parts and is usually figurative (e.g., tempest in a teapot, pull the wool over someone's eyes). The main thing that the lexicographer must determine before adding a compound or phrase to a dictionary is its currency and usefulness as well as how established a compound or phrase is, just as is the process for considering single-word lexemes for the dictionary. Standard dictionaries do not offer separate entry for collocations (words that commonly co-occur, e.g., bank account, used books) or retronyms (phrases created because an existing term that was once used alone needs to be distinguished from a term referring to a new development or variation, e.g., snow skiing, digital clock).