(I only understand Vietnamese, but I guess this phenomenon is an influence of ancient Chinese.)

For example, we say "table-chair" to mean furniture, "month-year" to mean time, "land-water" to mean country, "spring-summer-fall-winter" to mean the cycle of time, "birth-old-sickness-death" to mean the cycle of life...

The concept being mentioned is at least a name of a category that individual listed member belongs to it, or in the two latter cases there is also a subtle connotation of never ending within it, and these are the first step to Eastern philosophy. Is there a name for this phenomenon? What would be a good source to learn it?

Related: Open-ended concepts in Chinese usually be alluded by listing specific examples. Would native English speakers find it hard to grasp the connotation?

  • We have same words: 桌椅("table-chair), 岁月(we say year-month), 水土(land-water, it means 'area'), 春夏秋冬(spring-summer-fall-winte), 生老病死(birth-old-sickness-death), very interesting.
    – sfy
    Mar 6, 2018 at 16:01
  • 4
    下义(词)并列复合词 Hyponymous juxtaposition ,(mostly applies to just 2 components), subtype of one of 5 word formation types (see web about 复合词), examples of nouns from Yip Po-ching CLCS:刀枪、岁月(s.a.)、阡陌(阡 vertical 陌 horizontal footpaths),铺盖、子女、父母、鱼虾、花卉、瓜果、茶饭、门窗、瀛宦、书报、被褥、脏腑、(比喻 metaphorical):领袖、骨肉、手足、血汗、拳棒、
    – user6065
    Mar 6, 2018 at 18:59
  • @user6065 are "spring-summer-fall-winter" and "birth-old-sickness-death" hyponymous juxtaposition? The alluding concepts of those two examples seem to not share the same semantic field with their components.
    – Ooker
    Mar 8, 2018 at 12:26
  • 1
    bkrs:春夏秋冬the four seasons; a year spring, summer, autumn, winter #30774 生老病死 Budd. the four miseries in human life lit. to be born, to grow old, to get sick and to die (4 verbs denoting human activities) fig. the fate of humankind (i.e. mortality) #33642
    – user6065
    Mar 8, 2018 at 14:26
  • 1
    This kind of speech pattern is used more often in literary language (unless it's a well-known idiom); it's part of the reason why Chinese uses enumeration commas in addition to standard commas as well. You can construct entire sentences with very structured flow by using vocabulary consisting almost entirely of words of 2/3/4/5/6/7/8 syllables separated by pauses, although the higher numbers are usually used in poetry instead.
    – dROOOze
    Mar 9, 2018 at 2:12

1 Answer 1


At least in the context of 春夏秋冬 being used to represent the cycle of time, some might call that a "metonym". From The American Heritage Dictionary (on Wordnik):

n. A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.

"Washington" is often used to represent the US government, though it's really only a place. Maybe in the case of Chinese (or Vietnamese), such phrases are so commonly used that they become lexicalized as the standard means of expressing the concept.

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