We don’t talk about anything substantial, it’s just the introductory session, the getting-to-know-you stuff; he asks me what the trouble is and I tell him about the panic attacks, the insomnia, the fact that I lie awake at night too frightened to fall asleep.

I have noticed that in English is often used some sort of condensation as in the bold pasage in my sentence. Is there the official term describing this practice where for example a clause is transformed by means of hyphens into this kind of the sentence element?

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    May I humbly ask you not to use the "grammar" tag in your posts? – M.A.R. Mar 4 '16 at 17:53
  • What do you mean by the "grammar" tag? – bart-leby Mar 5 '16 at 20:52
  • The grammar tag. Right now this is what the tags on your question are: "adjectives", "hyphen" and "compounds". – M.A.R. Mar 6 '16 at 11:47
  • Do you think that I should be more precise in characterization of my questions? Do you think that using "grammar" is vague? I am not sure if I understand your note properly. – bart-leby Mar 6 '16 at 13:48
  • Please do not use the "grammar" tag on your future posts. We're trying to get rid of it. See meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/2699/… and meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/2706/… – M.A.R. Mar 6 '16 at 17:50

In the "getting-to-know-you stuff", the hyphenated part is a 'modifying phrase'. It basically fulfills the role of an adjective. Outwardly it reminds a 'compound adjective', but does not have the typical characteristics of an adjective.

The key thing that makes it work like an adjective here is that it is in the attributive position relative to the noun "stuff". That is, it stands before "stuff", and describes it, like an adjective would.

With the hyphens, it is easier to understand that what you have before your eyes works as an adjective:

What kind of stuff? The getting-to-know-you stuff.

Quirk et al. describe the use of the hyphen in Unit III.4 of their "Comprehensive Grammar" (page 1613). They basically list the cases in which it is used, and point out that it is used "to avoid misinterpretation".

So, technically your example could be a 'modifying phrase', listed as no. 4 (out of 9):

(4) other modifying phrases and modifying clauses (which are generally written open when not modifying), eg: on-the-spot (investigation), face-to-face (meeting), ten-item (test), right-to-life (movement), up-to-date (news), take-it-or-leave-it (attitude), do-it-yourself (job).

The English poet J.M. Hopkins was especially fond of coining compound adjectives:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air...

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    The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language lists these modifiers under "nonce-formations" on p.444 but the authors don't elaborate very much. Also on p.1660, where they write: "This is an area where it is difficult to draw a clear line between syntax and morphology, but it may be best to treat them as compound adjectives." They don't really offer any reasoning, unfortunately, presumably because they find it "difficult to draw a clear line" and establish them as adjectives rather than phrasal modifiers. – snailplane Mar 4 '16 at 21:10

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