More than once someone has used a particular adjective-noun pair (and less commonly an adverb-adjective pair) that struck me as being slightly odd, when you actually thought about the meaning of the adjective (or adverb). Importantly, it is never meant literally. In many cases, plenty of other adjectives would suffice to give the same intended meaning, but typically only one is used.
These pairs are entrenched as part of the language and almost every native speaker has heard of them and knows what they mean. Some have reasonably clear derivations, others are much harder to explain. Anyway, I'll list a few of what I think are the best examples here, and welcome any additions, explanations, comments or points of rebuttal.
strikingly beautiful (striking beauty)
consummate ease
shining example
morbid curiosity
yawning gap
crying shame
crashing bore
stone cold
barking mad
sneaking suspicion
thorny issue
bitter end
sweet surrender
hearty meal
winning smile
golden moment
spitting image
striking resemblance
smashing success
resounding success
cold comfort
blind ambition
glaring mistake
pale imitation
excruciating detail
deathly pale
livelong day
eminently sensible
screeching halt
frightful bore
More than once someone has used a particular adjective-noun pair (and less commonly an adverb-adjective pair) that struck me as ... few of what I think are the best examples here, and welcome any additions, explanations, comments or points of rebuttal.

Well, it's quite a list I wonder how long it took to accumulate these? I think it would take a great deal of time to look up each one and account for why the expression came about, but I suspect it's a more rational process than you assume ("never meant literally"?).

Just looking at a couple:
strikingly beautiful (striking beauty)

There are various words like striking, stunning, knockout, that relate the strong impact (contact, again) a beautiful person or thing has on us. It's hard for me to say if that is a literal use or not.
consummate ease

I don't see a big problem here. Merriam Webster gives:

Main Entry: con·sum·mate
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English consummat fulfilled, from Latin consummatus, past participle of consummare to sum up, finish, from com- + summa sum
Date: 1527

1 : complete in every detail : PERFECT
2 : extremely skilled and accomplished

3 : of the highest degree
Which are the ones that do puzzle you as to derivation?

If you're just trying to say, isn't it interesting that there are fixed two-word phrases, then yes, it is, rather. The sort of phrase that if they're split as you turn a page, you can guess what the next word is.
shining example morbid curiosity yawning gap crying shame crashing bore stone cold barking mad sneaking suspicion thorny issue bitter end sweet surrender hearty meal

You mean you really never encounter "hearty" as describing anyting else? Even "a hearty laugh"? Or do you mean that a meal that is "hearty" is never described as, say, "substantial"?
winning smile golden moment spitting image striking resemblance smashing success resounding success cold comfort blind ambition glaring mistake pale imitation excruciating detail deathly pale livelong day eminently sensible screeching halt frightful bore

"Frightful bore," "cold comfort" and "barking mad" feel British to me, not US. "Golden moment" I'm not familiar with at all. The rest are probably bipondal.

Best Donna Richoux
More than once someone has used a particular adjective-noun pair (and less commonly an adverb-adjective pair) that struck me as ... many cases, plenty of other adjectives would suffice to give the same intended meaning, but typically only one is used.

Most of these are simply what used be known as
hackneyed phrases, or cliches. Second- and third-rate writers use them as a substitute for original thought.
Michael West
Melbourne, Australia
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
More than once someone has used a particular adjective-noun pair ... the same intended meaning, but typically only one is used.

Most of these are simply what used be known as hackneyed phrases, or cliches. Second- and third-rate writers use them as a substitute for original thought.

Oh, I don't know. Is it really all that more disgraceful to use an expression like "shining example" that happens to be composed of two words, than to use, say, "anthropomorphism"? Why is it OK to use compounds built of Greek or Latin elements run together with no spaces, but not ones built of English elements? Just cuz one is called "one word" and the other compound is called "a hackneyed phrase"?

Best Donna Richoux
Well, it's quite a list I wonder how long it took to accumulate these?

It's only part of a longer list that I've been adding to here and there for the last 12 months or so. Some of the examples fit better than others but I don't have a easy rule to apply to them just yet.
Just looking at a couple:

strikingly beautiful (striking beauty)

There are various words like striking, stunning, knockout, that relate the strong impact (contact, again) a beautiful person or thing has on us. It's hard for me to say if that is a literal use or not.

Actually I'm tempted to remove this from the list. 'Stunningly' is actually more common, and strikingly is quite often used with other nouns (strikingly different, strikingly tall).
Devastatingly beautiful might be a better example.
consummate ease

I don't see a big problem here. Merriam Webster gives: 1 : complete in every detail : PERFECT 2 : ... : of the highest degree > Which are the ones that do puzzle you as to derivation?

The derivation doesn't puzzle me so much, but it's hardly the obvious adjective to choose when all you really mean is "total ease". I was a bit surprised to find that "consummate professional" is actually a lot more common (via google anyway) than "consummate ease". Maybe it's a better example.
If you're just trying to say, isn't it interesting that there are fixed two-word phrases, then yes, it is, rather. The sort of phrase that if they're split as you turn a page, you can guess what the next word is.

Good description, I hadn't thought of that.
hearty meal

You mean you really never encounter "hearty" as describing anyting else? Even "a hearty laugh"? Or do you mean that a meal that is "hearty" is never described as, say, "substantial"?

Basically yes. It's actually an adjective that only seems to be tied to specific words, and in each case it means something different! (welcome, laugh, appetite, meal)
frightful bore

"Frightful bore," "cold comfort" and "barking mad" feel British to me, not US. "Golden moment" I'm not familiar with at all. The rest are probably bipondal.

Yes, I already knew a few were not typically US expressions. All are common enough down in these parts however.
Someone else called them 'cliches', and I agree some of them border on being just that, but when it's just 2 words it seems a bit unfair to attach that sort of stigma to them.
Dylan
Most of these are simply what used be known as ... third-rate writers use them as a substitute for original thought.

Oh, I don't know. Is it really all that more disgraceful to use an expression like "shining example" that happens ... built of English elements? Just cuz one is called "one word" and the other compound is called "a hackneyed phrase"?

That last is an example of itself. Also, 'cliche' is a hackneyed metaphor.
john
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Most of these are simply what used be known as ... third-rate writers use them as a substitute for original thought.

Oh, I don't know. Is it really all that more disgraceful to use an expression like "shining example" that happens ... built of English elements? Just cuz one is called "one word" and the other compound is called "a hackneyed phrase"?

I didn't use the word "disgraceful". But when writers unthinkingly pair nouns and adjectives in predictable ways, intelligent readers start nodding off.
First-rate writers don't do it. When is a suspicion "sneaking", and why, and why can't it be something else? The same for "shining example." Is the word
"shining" really doing something in the sentence, or is it just there because it fell out of the air that way?

Michael West
Melbourne, Australia
First-rate writers don't do it. When is a suspicion "sneaking", and why, and why can't it be something else? The ... really doing something in the sentence, or is it just there because it fell out of the air that way?

I have a tiptoeing suspicion that your post is an effulgent example of verbal snobbery.
That last is an example of itself. Also, 'cliche' is a hackneyed metaphor.

How stereotypical!

Steve Hayes from Tshwane, South Africa
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7734/stevesig.htm
E-mail - see web page, or parse: shayes at dunelm full stop org full stop uk
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.