Body Participles: A Word Thing


I don’t know why, but as I was falling asleep the other night, I began thinking about the number of common adjectives we have created by combining a body part and an -ing participle. Seriously. I spent time out of my life thinking about this. Maybe I need some kind of professional help.

I don’t think there is a word for this. Maybe we can coin one here. How about anatomical participialism? Participial anatomicalism? Anato-participialising? Maybe I’ll just stick with body-participling.

Anyway, here’s my list of body-participles. Can you think of any more?

  • backbreaking
  • blood-curdling*
  • bone-rattling
  • butt-kicking
  • chest-pounding
  • earsplitting
  • eye-catching
  • eye-popping*
  • eyebrow-raising
  • face-saving
  • foot-stomping
  • finger-pointing
  • gut-busting
  • gut-wrenching*
  • hair-splitting
  • hair-raising
  • head-scratching
  • heartbreaking
  • heartrending
  • heart-stopping
  • hip-hugging
  • jaw-dropping
  • knee-slapping
  • lip-smacking
  • mind-boggling*
  • mouth-watering*
  • nail-biting
  • nerve-racking
  • rib-tickling
  • skin-crawling
  • spine-tingling
  • toe-tapping
  • tongue-twisting

There are others that seem to be used exclusively as nouns rather than adjectives:

  • arm twisting
  • bellyaching
  • brainstorming
  • browbeating
  • chest pounding
  • hand wringing
  • handshaking

*Contributed by commenter JJ


Leave any additions, questions, or psychiatric recommendations in the comment section below.




About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. ea

    very useful list, thank you. what about “leg-melting” and “thigh-quivering”?

  2. Lena Whitson
    Lena Whitson11-14-2012

    So, what’s the rule about making a hyphenated word, a single word, or two words out of these combinations? Sometimes on spell check I disagree with the alarming wavy line that indicates a mistake–just like now when I wrote spell-check. I do enjoy your posts!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko11-14-2012

      Oh, there’s no rule, Lena. At least no reliable one. We are talking English spelling after all. 🙂

      Compounds used as adjectives are almost always hyphenated, but there is no predictable way to create compound participles or nouns. Over time, as words grow more common, they tend to move closer together. But that’s only a general principle. Dictionaries often disagree among themselves on the spelling of compounds. Sorry!

  3. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko11-08-2012

    Excellent, JJ. I knew I’d left some out. I will add to the list. You get credit!

  4. JJ

    How about some of these?


    • JJ

      I thought of one more:

      Mouth-watering (it is around dinner time 🙂 )

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