FIXED PHRASE. A PHRASE, often consisting of an ADJECTIVE and a NOUN, which functions as a WORD, either with unique reference (Red Ensign, Red Indian, Red Sea) or as an idiom (red herring, red tape). The usual stress is level (Réd, Séa, réd tápe) as opposed to initial emphasis in compounds (REDcap, REDcoat). Fixed phrases are common in technical usage: adaptive radiation, natural selection, solar nebula, spontaneous generation. The dividing line between a widely used ordinary phrase and a fixed phrase is not easy to determine. There are degrees of fixedness, depending on frequency of occurrence and people's perception of the usage. Darwin's phrase natural selection did not become fixed in the language at large for many years, but for Darwin, it was probably fixed from the moment of coinage. The line between fixed phrases and compound words is also not easy to draw. Linguists disagree as to whether the following are fixed phrases or compounds: possessive eponyms (Parkinson's Law, Tourett's syndrome), words linked by preposition (brother-in-law, actor-cum-manager), and emphatic expressions (brute of a man, hell of a time). Fixed phrases are often incorporated into compounds: red letter in red-letter day (a réd-LEtter dáy), and phrases that have been incorporated into compound forms become fixed within them: hot water in a hot-water system; quick action in quick-action glue. See HOLOPHRASE, TECHNOSPEAK.
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