“Bad” and “Poor” Collocations!! Can Collocations be Bad?
Dr. Abdulkhaliq Alazzawie
Department of Foreign Languages
The word bad, an adjective with a broad range of application, can occur in many more and different combinations than other words/parts of speech, unlike the verb bray, for example, which is very "situationally specific" with a very narrow range of application. Consider:
The donkey brayed. Or,
The braying donkey stood still,
where the noun donkey is used as the topic (verb in the 1st sentence and adjective in 2nd sentence). Bray or braying is the sound that the donkey makes. There is only one adjective, braying, used to describe the signature donkey cry. It is possible for someone to say:
"The donkey screeched or hee-hawed or cried or croaked.", but donkeys do not usually come up in conversation in most western English-speaking countries these days and the dictionary term for the sound donkeys make is "bray”.
Bad can be used to describe many different nouns (objects, persons, animals, situations, concepts, conditions, etc.). What is true for bad is not true for every adjective. Almost anything can be bad, but not everything can be red or blue; not all people are short or tall or lazy or athletic. Still, even with an adjective such as bad, you cannot just read the definition in the dictionary and use "bad" indiscriminately. We might say we had a bad dream, but we do not usually say we had a bad nightmare because a nightmare is understood to be bad. So, in this case, the essence of the noun affects collocation.
Bad combines with verbs bearing -ing as in bad monitoring, bad teaching, bad policing, bad tasting, bad writing, bad drawing, bad driving, bad scheming, bad counselling, bad heating, bad scheduling, bad packaging, bad labelling.
Other combos include: bad cleaning job or bad soccer playing.
Bad combines with food/drink: bad salad, bad apple, bad lunch/meal, bad water, bad coffee, bad whiskey, bad wine;
Bad combines with
Sicknesses: a bad cold, a bad virus, a bad case of the flu, a bad cough, a bad wheeze, bad pain, bad stomach, bad health, bad allergies, bad scar, bad liver;
Parts of the body: a bad kidney/liver/stomach/nose or bad eyes, bad teeth, bad gums;
Concepts - things to do with the mind and the products or results of thinking: a bad philosophy, a bad idea, a bad reason, a bad excuse, bad system, bad process, bad dream, a bad moment, bad space, bad frame of mind, bad science, bad example, bad sample, bad analysis, bad assessment, bad treatment, bad karma;or
Senses: bad nose/smell, bad taste/flavour, bad vision/eyesight/eyes, bad ears/ hearing, bad touch.
Bad even combines with How you feel and think about something as in "I have a bad feeling about him." or "That's a bad sign."
Bad precedes certain nouns, which results in some oxymoronic adjective-noun combinations: A bad compliment isn't really a compliment, is it? A bad solution isn't really a solution.
General evaluative adjectives or descriptive adjectives, like good and bad, have so many varied applications; they can be applied over and over with many different nouns. They will be heard, seen, and used much more frequently in conversation and writing. Thus, the frequency of an adjective's usage increases with the number of possible applications. In general, the degree to which a word is used in combination with another depends on the parts of speech involved and the breadth of their application (the number of possible usages).
In many cases, poor can substitute for bad as in:
That's a poor choice.
He's a poor candidate.
That's a poor specimen.
That was a poor shot.
That's a poor excuse.
However, this is not always the case. A poor reflection (due to bad lighting/darkness, a cracked mirror, a mirror of poor quality) can have a different meaning than a bad reflection (a bad sight, like an unattractive person). A poor man (not well off) is not the same thing as a bad man (one who is corrupt and dangerous, such as a criminal). A poor animal (one that would evoke sympathy due to some unfortunate circumstance, such as being abandoned or ill) is not the same thing as a bad animal (an animal that is dangerous). "Poor cop" can mean: " I feel sorry for this policeman." (who is being attacked by an angry drunk), or it can mean cops don't make enough money or, also like bad to a lesser degree, that the cop is a poor excuse for an officer. But if I say "bad cop", it has the sole meaning that the fellow is not fit to be a cop (wrong temperament, too harsh, and especially that he's corrupt). The fewer the possible applications or usages are, the greater one would expect a certain combo to occur (the "greater the expectancy"), but the broader the field of possible applications is, such as occurs with bad/good or general evaluative adjectives, the less "expectancy" there is. Such adjectives have a much broader application than the verb bray or the adjective braying because bray has extremely limited usage, with the noun donkey.
The fewer the possible applications or usages are, the greater one would expect a certain combo to occur (the "greater the expectancy"), but the broader the field of possible applications is, such as occurs with bad/good or general evaluative adjectives, the less "expectancy" there is. Such adjectives have a much broader application than the verb bray or the adjective braying because bray has extremely limited usage, with the noun donkey.
So, there are those two distinct differences between the two adjectives when they each precede "cop".
What these uses of bad and poor illustrate is that certain words "keep company" and when paired together, they produce a certain/distinct meaning. Part of the meaning of bad,therefore, is to be found in combination with read, ankle, need, etc. Since the combination involves co-dependency, or what Jackson (2013, p. 97) calls "mutual expectancy", part of the meaning of read, ankle, need, etc., is that they combine with bad. One could say:
good read, lousy read or good ankle or lousy ankle or even poor read or poor ankle. I have even heard: He's in poor need of a shower.
Bad is an adjective which combines with so many words. Its collocations are weak, as defined by Jackson (2013), and one cannot predict what is going to be said after (what is going to follow) if someone says "bad" unless there is a clear context under discussion, like someone's bad ankle that they are having trouble with. Nor can you expect to hear “bad” before read, ankle, or need because these nouns are not normally associated with the word bad or with a good or bad nature.
What is meant here is that when bad is paired with these nouns, a distinct meaning is achieved, unlike other adjectives that may precede these nouns. You can say:
“No my right hand is my good hand”. Or,
“No, Dr., that's my good ankle or my bad ankle”. You could say:
“That book was a bad read”. (You didn't like the book or the writing and feel it wasn't worth the time you spent reading it). Or,
“That book was a good read”. (You enjoyed the book and the writing.) You can say:
"I have a bad need for a drink right now". Or,
"I have a bad need for a smoke right now. Have you got any cigarettes?" You might hear:
"I'm in good need of a smoke right now."
If someone is talking about their bad ankle, yes this is clear. If ankles are "good", in good condition and working fine without any problems, then people probably will not be talking much about their "good" ankle. Bad is bad in the sense of people acting badly (bad behaviour) or being bad/corrupt, or food being rotten or spoiled. That raises the question: Does the nature/essence of the adjective and the noun have to match in order for there to be codependency or a 'mutual expectancy'? At least in some cases? Or, in this one instance? Or, in a few cases? At any rate, in this case, an adjective-noun pairing is an expression that produces a particular meaning.
But, you can also say:
“He's a corrupt cop.” or a corrupt officer. Or, maybe:
"He's on the take”, meaning corrupt. So, this pairing unlike so many pairings in which bad is the adjective followed by a noun, the pairing "bad cop" produces the distinct meaning that the noun is corrupt. That is a bad stove is probably broken or old and worn down. A bad person usually means they are criminals or are dangerous, someone with criminal tendencies, or someone heading that way, or somebody that behaves badly, treats other people badly:
"Don't go out with him. He's bad." A mother might tell her daughter: "He's a bad person, so stay away from him."
A bad animal is dangerous, like a bad person. Bad food means that it is spoiled. Bad water means it is contaminated. A bad read means the book was not very good and you did not like it. A bad ankle means that particular ankle has something physically wrong with it and it causes you trouble and perhaps pain or discomfort. A bad need as in:
“He's in bad need of a hip operation”, or
“He has a bad need for alcohol”, or
“He's in bad need of company”.
It means he really needs a hip operation, or he has a real drinking problem, or he is so lonely he could use some company. It means to be in need of something or to have a bad need for something.
Bad and good have almost endless applications it seems, but they still exist in combos together that have a strong "expectation" of occurrence, such as within the context of discussing the weather:
"There was a bad thunder and lightning storm with hail and wind yesterday.", or,
"The rainy spell has ended and there's nothing but good weather on the horizon."
In these examples, we see how certain contexts lend themselves to "strong" expectations. And then there are pairings - popular, common expressions - which have a particular meaning or a strict reference where substitution never occurs, and is not possible if the combination's particular meaning is to be arrived at. When describing a person's character which is troublesome, using a fruit analogy, the description "bad apple" is often used:
"He's one bad apple." Or,
"One bad apple spoils the whole bunch."
You cannot say:
“bad cauliflower, carrot, onion”, or any other type of food. When referring to New York City in New York State, the immensely popular slang term "The Big Apple" is used. You cannot say:
"The Red Apple", “The ripe banana”, “The juicy orange”, “The huge melon.”
You cannot say:
"The Big Cultural Hub" or "The Giant Financial Mecca".
No other adjective or noun can be used to mean "New York City."
When talking about someone who just came to someone's rescue, they are called a "Good Samaritan."
“The Big Apple, bad apple, and Good Samaritan” are set expressions with distinctive meanings.
The fewer the possible applications or usages are, the greater one would expect a certain combo to occur (the "greater the expectancy"), but the broader the field of possible applications is, such as occurs with bad/good or general evaluative adjectives, the less "expectancy" there is. Such adjectives have a much broader application than the verb bray or the adjective braying, referred to at the beginning of this article, because bray has extremely limited usage, with the noun donkey.