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I have a random question about word-order that I have trouble looking up.

Why is it correct to say: "the band Heart," "the movie 'Up!'," "code blue," "evasive pattern Ortegas Gamma 1" etc.; when the opposite word-order is what I have always been taught: "the HR department," "the Cambridge university," "the Lexus division," "Delta formation," "the Picard maneuver" and so on.

Is the first category just made up of exceptions, or is there an obvious pattern that I am missing? How do I know which one to use?

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Your first two examples, “the band Heart” and “the movie Up!” feature apposition, which is to say one noun phrase (NP) immediately following another and used to individuate or specify the earlier NP.

By contrast, “code blue” can be thought of like “chapter 3” or “room 604.” In such cases it is understood that there is a collection of codes or chapters or rooms and that we distinguish among them by assigning to each an identifier, here a color or a number.

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  • Ad 2nd paragraph: So why Vic formation, 1st regiment, gamma squadron, Herbst maneuver?
    – arctiq
    Sep 1, 2023 at 15:15
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    It happens to be traditional to say 'The 5th Regiment' rather than 'Regiment No. 5'. Sep 1, 2023 at 15:35
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    A lot of it depends on context and conventions. For instance, it is fairly standard for names or designators for military units to have the modifier precede the head noun: 8th Air Force, 902nd Military Intelligence Group. But ultimately, I don’t think there’s any tidy dividing line or convenient explanation. The patterns simply are what they are. Sep 1, 2023 at 15:36
  • OK, with the exception of feature appositions, it's just exceptions and traditions. Thus, if I start new a team/group/division, I can decide to place the identifier anywhere I want: "team red" and "red team" will both be valid, and nobody can say either is grammatically incorrect. Thanks! I suppose such note should be added to the answer, but I am ready to accept it.
    – arctiq
    Sep 1, 2023 at 15:56
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I would explain the order there as the color being used quasi-cardinally, to indicate a level of severity. It's like Floor 2 instead of "the second floor", or "clean-up needed in Aisle 6".

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This is an exception where English grammar was designed around practical needs, not the other way around.
"Code blue" is a phrase that is used in hospitals, when doctors and nurses need to immediately go to a patient to try to save the patient's life. There are a few other codes, also of similar urgency. That means that the term needs to be recognizable as quickly as possible.

  • The most important part of the phrase is "code". The fact that a patient is "coding" means that each doctor or nurse in the vicinity needs to immediately re-prioritize what they are doing, and prepare to move elsewhere.
  • The second most important part of the phrase is "blue". This tells each doctor or nurse the severity of the situation. Further information, such as where the situation is occurring, will immediately follow.

Putting the noun first and the adjective second allows the fastest possible recognition of an urgent request. (In just two syllables!) Using a code not only shortens the communication, it also prevents panic among those non-medical personnel who are not aware of the meaning of the code.

There are many other phrases that use similar words in the usual order, which do not have this sense of "Urgent -- be ready to interrupt whatever you are doing". For example, "blue pill", "red pill", "barcode", "security code".

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