One-trick words


Some words in the English language just don't earn their keep. For example,

Aback
A person can be taken it.
Abdabs
are invariably the screaming kind.
Ado
... not only is 'ado' always further , but it is only mentioned when 'without', as in 'without further ado'. The phrase 'much ado' occurs in the title of a 16th century play but does not otherwise occur in modern English.
Afield
Something can be 'farther afield', or, at a pinch, 'further afield'.
Aforethought
Only 'malice' can be 'aforethought'.
Aggrandising
Has to be self aggrandising.
Akimbo
Only 'arms' can be 'akimbo'. I am aware that some degenerate souls use 'legs akimbo', but the dictionary definition is:
"Of the arms: In a position in which the hands rest on the hips and the elbows are turned outwards".
Amends
You can make them.
Amok
... can only be run
Ante
... can only be 'upped'
Applecart
We don't want to upset it.
Aspersions
Can only be cast. (But see note below.)
Askance
... you can look it.
Bandied
... about
Bated
... breath
Be-all
The be-all is also the end-all.
Beavering
... away
Bended
Only a knee can be bended. Anything else would be bent.
Betide
Only woe can betide.
Betwixt
Things that are betwixt are also between.
Billy-o
You can do things like it
Bogged
You can only get it down
Bounden
... duty
Bumpkin
... is invariably country.
Bygones
... you can let them be bygones*. Or vice versa.
Cahoots
I think you get the hang of it.
Champing
You can do it at the bit
Cheesed
... off
Codger
A codger is invariably old.
Comeuppance
You can get it, but only your own.
Cous
... cous (and vice versa, admittedly.)**
Craw
Things stick in it
Crick
Have you ever had a crick in any part of your body other than the neck?
Cropper
You can come one
Daylights
Daylights can only be plural if they are The Living, and being scared, beaten or otherwise moved Out Of someone.
Dandle
... on one's knee
Dinkum
is invariably fair dinkum.
Dint
as in, "by dint of"
Disrepute
... is never seen without 'into'. Brought into, fall into or even slide into; but always 'into'.
Dolled
... up
Doff
... one's hat (or synoynm, such as cap)
Dribs
... are inseparable from drabs.
Druthers
... are always counterfactual.
Dudgeon
One can be in it, but only if its high.
Dulcet
tones
Edgeways
You can get a word in it (or try to).
Eke
You can eke things out, but you can't eke them back in again.
End-all
Only the be-all can be the end-all, according to the dictionary.
Extenuating
Only 'circumstances' can be 'extenuating'.
Falutin (sic)
is always high.
Figment
... of the imagination
Fine-tooth
Only a comb can be fine-tooth, but see the note below.
Fledged
Was anything ever 'partially' fledged?
Fobbed
... off
Foregone
... conclusion
Forfend
Only heaven can forfend.
Fro
"Fro", as in "to and fro", is an abbreviated form of "from". But it is an abbreviation that is only used with "to and".
Gird
... loins
Grist
... it's 'to the mill' every time.
Gung
... can only be followed by "ho".
Gyp
... can be given, but not taken (except in Cambridge and Durham, where a "gyp" is a college servant). Gyp should not be confused with gip, an American colloquialism.
Hackles
They rise, or in the passive, they may be raised. But they are never lowered.
Halcyon
Only 'days' can be halcyon.
Handcart
You can go to hell in one.
Hawing
Anyone "hawing" has, in fact, been "humming and hawing", if they are in Britain, or "hemming and hawing", if in the States.
Het
... up
Hived
... off
Honcho
The only kind of honcho is a head honcho.
Hoar
... frost
Hove
"Hove into view", yes. "Hove into the living room", or anywhere else, no.
Hunker
... down
Immemorial
Only 'time' can be 'immemorial'.
Inroads
You can make them, into something.
Intents
can only be plural when used in the phrase "to all intents and purposes".
Jinks
are always 'high'.
Joss
... stick(s)
Keeling
... over
Kith
... and kin
Knell
The only kind of knell that ever gets a mention is a death knell.
Kybosh
You can put it on something.
Lieu
Things can be 'in' it.
Loggerheads
You can be at them.
Lucre
is always 'filthy'
Lumpen
Only the proletariat can be "lumpen".
Madding
The only thing you can do with the word "madding" is to make a literary allusion, as in "far from the madding crowd". Even the title of the Thomas Hardy novel is a literary allusion to a previous poem by Thomas Gray.
Meted
... out
Muchness
"Much of a muchness" yes. "Little of a muchness", no.
Neap
Only tides can be neap.
Noised
... abroad
Onus
Always "on"; never "off".
Offing
Things can be in it
Outstay
Only a welcome can be outstayed.
Over-reach
If you're going to do any over-reaching, you'll over-reach yourself.
Paraclete
The only thing to be done with the word 'paraclete' is point out that it applies to the Holy Spirit, in Christian theology.
Pease
... pudding
Petard
You can be hoist with one - if it's your own
Peter
Peter out, yes. But peter back in again? No!
Pikestaff
A thing can be as plain as one.
Plighting
... can only be done to one's troth.
Pock
... mark
Poring
over
Pyrrhic
... victory
Quandary
... you can be in it
Raze
You can raze things to the ground, but you can't raze them to anywhere else.
Retrick
... one's beams. According to the dictionary, use of the word "retrick" is "always with reference to Milton's line ... 'the day-star ... tricks his beams' ".
Riband
Only comes in blue.
Riddance
is invariably 'good'.
Rouser
The only sort is a rabble rouser.
Runcible
Runcible was originally a nonsense word coined by Edward Lear, but 'runcible spoon' was subsequently adopted to describe a three-pronged slotted spoon for eating pickles. By definition, therefore, only a spoon can be runcible.
Sandboy
You can be as happy as one.
Scrimp
Did anyone ever scrimp but not save?
Serried
ranks
Shebang
With the whole shebang, we are familiar. But a partial shebang ...
Shrift
Was anyone ever given long shrift?
Slake
Only a 'thirst' can be 'slaked'.
Slanging
... match
Sleight
... of hand
Snook
You can cock one.
Shored
... up
Spick
Was anything or anywhere ever spick but not span?
Squib
No-one ever mentions a squib unless it's damp.
Stead
One can be stood in it, but only if it is good stead.
Staving
... off
Stoved
... in
Straitened
Only circumstances can be 'straitened', including financial circumstances.
Tabby
... cat
Tenterhooks
You can be on them
Thew
... and sinew
Tittle
This is the tittle of 'not one jot or tittle'. ('Tittle-tattle' is a hyphenated single word.)
Toeing
... the line
Toothcomb
The only kind of toothcomb is a fine toothcomb: but see the note below.
Tribulations
No-one has had 'tribulations' that weren't preceded by 'trials' since the time of Job.
Trice
You can do things in one
Trove
Is there any kind other than Treasure?
Ulterior
Only a 'motive' can be 'ulterior'.
Vantage
... point
Vested
... interest
Weft
I don't know what it is, but it is always accompanied by 'warp'.
Welled
... up
Wend
... your way, his way, its way ...
Whiling
... away
Whippersnapper
Must be young.
Wined
... and dined. You can't do the former without the latter.
Wildfire
Things spread like it.
Wishful
... precedes 'thinking'.
Zoot
Only a suit can be 'zoot'; so much so that the dictionary definition of zoot (2nd edition, 1989) is 'a zoot suit'.

Local one-trick words

These are one-trick words in the UK:

Gotten
In British English, (and in the dictionary), the only contemporary use is "ill-gotten".
Juke
... box
Limber
One can limber up, but not down.
Raincheck
The only thing to be done with a raincheck is promise to take one.

but not in the US, where joints too can be juke, a raincheck still has a literal meaning, and gotten is a colloquial synonym for 'got'.


Notes

Most recent addition (October 2013) marked thus.

* For "bygones", see also the list of highly evolved one-trick words.

** Several readers have queried the inclusion of 'cous', on the grounds that 'couscous' is a single word (sometimes hyphenated, as 'cous-cous'). After some research I can report that although the single word and hyphenated forms are historically correct, the two-word form 'cous cous' is also in widespread contemporary usage, and is the only form in which the word 'cous' ever appears. Note further that the (pre-)existence of the word 'couscous' does not affect my decision to include 'cous', just as the existence of the word 'bonus' does not affect the inclusion here of 'onus'.

*** Both toothcomb and fine-tooth are entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, and both are one-trick words. I suggest that the two can be distinguished in speech by emphasis on "fine" in "fine toothcomb" or on "comb" in "fine-tooth comb".

An honourable mention: scot, as in scot-free. Since the latter is a single word (even 'scotfree' without the hyphen, in some dictionaries) this isn't so much a one-trick word as one of those negatives that does not have a positive (e.g. 'dismantled'). However, as a relic of a once-independent word (the Old English noun 'scot' meaning 'tax'), it belongs to this list in spirit if not in technicality.

One half of the heteronym 'Whooping', on the heteronyms page, is also a one-trick word.

Some words that turned out not to be one-trick are listed at notone.html.


Literary endeavours

Some examples of authors doing their best to subvert or exploit one-trick words:

In Iain M. Banks' novel "Inversions", an "aspersion" was "conveyed" rather than "cast". However, the usage has not caught on.

William Boyd's novel "Armadillo" contains this unusual take (Chapter 15):

The wooden box banged against a pier and was caught and scraped along the wall beneath him. He read the letters branded on to the box's side, 'Château Cheval Blanc 1982'. Only in Chelsea, he thought; there was clearly flotsam and flotsam.

In his novel "He knew he was right", Anthony Trollope side-steps "malice aforethought" in this way:

His old friend, Hugh Stanbury, had gone over to the other side, and had quarrelled with him purposely, with malice prepense"


Additions and corrections to richard@onetrickwords.com please.

Richard's Useful Lists
One-trick Words Untruisms
Heteronyms Silent letters
Morissettes Quotes and Links


Wordplay compiled by Richard Stevens with Rupert Mann, Sarah Mann and Dave Martin.