“The loss of experience is a major 20th-century theme. One makes love with The Joy of Sex hanging over one’s head, and so on. . . . Unmediated experience is hard to come by, is probably reserved, in our time, to as yet undiscovered tribes sweltering in the jungles of Bahuvrihi.”
– Donald Barthelme
A bahuvrihi is a compound word functioning as an adjective or a noun (although the American Heritage Dictionary insists it’s only an adjective). The last element in the compound is a noun. As in high-profile case. High-profile is the bahuvrihi, profile being a noun, and the compound modifying the noun case. Also, as a noun: bluebell, bonehead. The term comes from the Sanskrit bahuvrihih, having much rice.: bahu-, much + vrihih-, rice. Some bahuvrihis can have a plural form, but a singular meaning: lazybones, yellowlegs (the shorebird [another bahuvrihi]). Take a bahuvrihi modifier (low-life scumbag) and make it a substantive (He’s a lowlife) and something else odd happens. The plurals become regular. The plural of life is lives, but the plural of lowlife is lowlifes. Still life, still lifes. A lowlife is not a kind of life at all, so the usual irregular plural for life doesn’t apply, and the normal rule for making plurals does: add an s.
Sanskrit, like German, uses compounding frequently, and in Medieval Sanskrit, a compound might contain twenty or more elements and take up several lines of print. Besides bahuvrihi, there are these others. A dvandva (from the repeated noun dva, pair or couple) is a coordinating compound in which the elements are related to each other as if joined by and. Bittersweet means both bitter and sweet; roller-coaster means it rolls and it coasts. Some dvandva compounds, like those, are nouns. More often they are adjectives: father-daughter dance; North-South compromise.
And then there are the determinative compounds. Here the first word in the compound means a special kind of whatever the second word is. For example, a pickaxe is a kind of axe, a piano stool is a kind of piano. There are two kinds of determinative compounds:
In tatpurusha (from the compound tatpurus, his man [as in servant]) compounds the first element qualifies the second, while the second retains its grammatical independence as a noun, adjective, or participle. Doorstop, yearbook, heartworm. These are dependent determinatives. Tatpurusha, by the way, is one of the eleven names of Shiva Bhagawan and one of the five mantras that constitute Shiva’s body (Om tatpurusha namah).
Descriptive determinatives are called karmadharaya from karma, fate or action, and dharaya, holding. The first member of the compound describes the second. If the compound is a noun, then the first word is an adjective: blackbird (not any black bird), redbud (not a red bud, but a kind of tree). If the compound is an adjective, then the first word could be an adverb, well-known or a noun newly-appointed.