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I just came a across the word 「お巡りさん」。While 「お巡り」 is a word, 「巡り」 is not. Likewise, 「ご飯」 is a word, but while 「飯」is a word, the reading changes to the 訓読み (めし)。This means that the 「ご」in「ご飯」is not window-dressing 美化語. The「ご」in「ご飯」is a necessary part of the word. In my opinion, 「お茶」 is in limbo. I've never heard 「茶」 spoken without an honorific 「お」、but 「茶」alone is officially in my dictionary。

Over time, 「お」or「ご」can become a necessary part of some words, right? Is this a documented part of Japanese grammar? (reference links would be welcomed). What are a few more words that have an honorific prefix, 「お」or「ご」, as a necessary part?

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I wouldn't quite say that this is a duplicate of that question. The answers to that question only partially answer this one. I think the answer snailboat has given answers this question in full. – Ataraxia Oct 12 '13 at 18:29
up vote 8 down vote accepted

In language, a process is said to be productive if it can produce new words (or phrases, etc.). For example, in English, you can add un- to lots of words, so we say that un- affixation is a productive process. And in Japanese, affixing go- and o- to words is relatively productive.

But when a word can no longer be formed via a productive process in the modern language with a predictable meaning, we say that it's become lexicalized. In other words, it's become a single word, and it needs its own dictionary entry. You need a dictionary entry for disgruntled because you can't figure it out from dis- and gruntled in the modern language. Likewise, you need a dictionary entry for おやすみ, ごはん, and おにぎり because they've become single lexical words.

So yes, o- and go- can become a necessary part of a word, and the name for this process is lexicalization.

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"She looked very heveled, with her hair all in array, and I was so gruntled that I came across as too chalant." There was a lovely short story originally from 1994 in the New Yorker like this, using such unpaired words. – Eiríkr Útlendi Apr 3 at 8:05

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