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The word 颜色 (yánsè / colour; facial expression/looks) is clearly related to several chengyu:

  • 五颜六色
  • 容颜失色
  • 正颜厉色
  • 和颜悦色
  • 怡颜悦色
  • 喜颜悦色

I suspect that many two-character words AB are similar to 颜色, in that there are several chengyu of the form "-A-B". I had a quick look and only noticed 情理 (通情达理,合情合理,揣情度理…).

We could call words like 颜色 and 情理 "potent" (or "chengyu-potent"). I have few questions related to this topic.

  1. Are there any resources about such "potent" words? Is there a term in Chinese for such words?

  2. One could in theory extract a list of potent words from any list of two-character words together with a chengyu dictionary. Which HSK 1, 2, … 6 words are potent?

  3. At the moment I can't think of any interesting examples AB where there are "A-B-" -related chengyu (a different sort of chengyu-potent word). Are there any?

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Are there any resources about such "potent" words? Is there a term in Chinese for such words?

One could in theory extract a list of potent words from any list of two-character words together with a chengyu dictionary. Which HSK 1, 2, … 6 words are potent?

It is very common for Chinese to combine two compound words and rearrange the order to create idiomatic phrase. It would make the speech more classical and literary. Most of them are not actual proverb or idiom.

The examples you listed are not idioms; 五颜六色 and 和颜悦色 are common phrases, but the rest are not

Another way to create idiomatic phrase is just break up a compound word and apply separate adjective or adverb to them. Too many words have this potential, I am afraid it is impossible to list all the combinations.

Some dictionary might provide examples of idiomatic phrases but it is not a standard feature.

Examples of combine two compound words and rearrange the order to create idiomatic phrase:

人馬 (men and horses = fighting force)

強壯 (strong)

人馬 + 強壯 = 人馬強壯 -->人強馬壯 (the fighting force is strong)

~

窮極 (extremely)

兇惡 (fierce)

窮極 + 兇惡 = 窮極兇惡 --> 窮兇極惡 (extremely fierce)

~

Examples of breaking up common compound words and apply separate adjective or adverb to them:

清楚 (clear) --> 一清二楚 (completely clear), 不清不楚 (not clear at all)

乾淨 (clean) --> 一乾二淨 (completely clean), 不乾不淨 (not clean at all)

成就 (achievement) --> 東成西就 (having achievement everywhere)

At the moment I can't think of any interesting examples AB where there are "A-B-" -related

  • 天地: (AB) → (A~B~): 天崩地裂,天旋地轉,天昏地暗 (天地崩裂,天地旋轉,天地昏暗)

  • 天地: (AB) → (~A~B): 烏天黑地,驚天動地 (天地烏黑,驚動天地)

  • Thanks for your helpful and detailed answer. Just a few comments. 1. I found the 6 examples related to 颜色 in Pleco. Four of the six are in a chengyu dictionary. Thanks for letting me know that only two of them are common idioms.. // 2. I reckon there probably are common two-character words (compound words) where this sort of combining with other compound words is not possible. // 3. I find this can be a useful way of studying the language - getting familiar with vocabulary, it can be helpful to be aware of related/derived terms. – goPlayerJuggler Apr 30 at 7:01

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