Siamese twins (linguistics)

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The expression "hammer and sickle" is a Siamese twin. The order of the two keys words of this familiar expression cannot be reversed.

Siamese twins (also irreversible binomials,[1] binomials,[1] binomial pairs, freezes) in the context of the English language is a pair or grouping of words used together as an idiomatic expression or collocation, usually conjoined by the words and or or. The order of elements cannot be reversed.[1] The expressions hammer and sickle (two nouns), short and sweet (two adjectives), and do or die (two verbs) are various examples of Siamese twins. When the two words are of equal weight and importance, the balanced binomial is also a bicolon.

Some English words are known to have become obsolete in general but are still found exclusively in an irreversible binomial. In the passage of time since spick and span was coined, the origin and meaning of the word spick has been utterly forgotten; it has become a fossil word that never appears outside the familiar phrase.[2] In other cases an English word (like vim in vim and vigor or the abet in aid and abet) will be found more often in such phrases than on its own; such a word may be archaic apart from the collocation.

Many Siamese twins are "catchy" (and thus clichés and catchphrases) due to alliteration, rhyming, or their ubiquity in society and culture. Word combinations like rock and roll, the birds and the bees, mix and match, and wear and tear have become so widely used that their meanings surpass the meaning of the constituent words and are thus inseparable and permanent parts of the English lexicon; the former two are idioms, whilst the latter two are collocations. Ubiquitous collocations like loud and clear and life or death are fixed expressions, making them a standard part of the vocabulary of native English speakers.

A few Siamese twins have variations, based on the usage of the phrase. One time-worn expression is time and time again: it is frequently shortened to time and again.


The term Siamese twins originates with Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twins from Siam. In the context of the English language, this word was first used and popularised by H. W. Fowler, a renowned lexicographer.


The most common conjunctions used in a phrase that constitutes Siamese twins are and or or.

With "and" as the conjunction[edit]

With "or" or "nor" as the conjunction[edit]

  • all or nothing
  • better or worse
  • big or small
  • the chicken or the egg
  • day or night
  • dead or alive
  • do or die
  • fight or flight
  • (neither) fish nor fowl
  • give or take[1]
  • good or bad
  • gentle or simple
  • heads or tails
  • (come) hell or high water
  • (neither) here nor there
  • (neither) hide nor hair
  • hit or miss
  • (not one) jot or tittle
  • kill or cure
  • kill or be killed
  • (neither) love nor money
  • make or break[1]
  • more or less
  • rain or shine
  • sink or swim
  • sooner or later
  • take it or leave it
  • two or more
  • up or down
  • (neither) use nor ornament
  • victory or death
  • win or lose
  • yes or no


The structure of any Siamese twins phrase has words that are related in some way. The words constituting a Siamese twins phrase may be synonyms, antonyms, include alliterations or similar-sounding words that often rhyme. Other varieties of Siamese twins may also be possible.

Examples below are split into various tables; some may belong in more than one table but are listed only once.

With opposites and antonyms [edit]

With related words and synonyms [edit]

With alliteration [edit]

With numbers[edit]

Pairs of two numbers joined by a conjunction generally appear in increasing numeric order, as in two or three rather than three or two.

With rhymes and similar-sounding words [edit]

  • break and take
  • box and cox
  • chalk and talk
  • charts and darts
  • chips and dip
  • double trouble
  • even Steven
  • fender bender
  • five and dime
  • flotsam and jetsam[3]
  • fun in the sun
  • no fuss, no muss
  • handy-dandy
  • harum-scarum
  • helter skelter
  • high and dry[1]
  • hire and fire[1]
  • hither and thither
  • hocus pocus
  • hoi polloi
  • hot to trot
  • huff and puff
  • hustle and bustle
  • lap and gap
  • lick 'em and stick 'em
  • mean, green,
    fighting machine
  • meet and greet
  • motor voter
  • my way or the highway
  • namby-pamby
  • name and shame
  • name it and claim it
  • near and dear
  • never, ever
  • nitty gritty
  • odds and sods
  • onwards and upwards
  • Orgy Porgy
  • out and about
  • pell-mell
  • pedal to the metal
  • pump and dump
  • rough and tough
  • shout and clout
  • saggy baggy
  • shake and bake
  • slowly but surely
  • smoke and joke
  • stash and dash
  • stop and drop
  • surf and turf
  • time and tide
  • town and gown[1]
  • use it or lose it
  • wake and bake
  • wear and tear
  • weed and feed
  • wham, bam, thank you, ma'am
  • willy nilly
  • wine and dine[1]
  • yea or nay
  • (the) yeas and (the) nays

With repetition[edit]

Some of these are examples of reduplication.

  • again and again
  • all in all
  • around and around
  • arm in arm
  • back to back
  • be all and end all
  • billions and billions
  • bit by bit
  • bling-bling
  • bumper to bumper
  • business to business
  • by and by[1]
  • let bygones be bygones
  • cheek to cheek
  • closer and closer
  • come, come
  • (from) coast to coast
  • day in, day out
  • day to day
  • day by day
  • for days and days
  • four-by-four (4x4)
  • elbow to elbow
  • end to end
  • dog eat dog
  • from ear to ear
  • end over end
  • an eye for an eye
  • eye to eye
  • face to face[1]
  • forever and ever
  • go, go, go
  • hand in hand
  • hand to hand
  • head to head
  • heart to heart
  • higher and higher
  • home sweet home
  • horror of horrors
  • kill or be killed
  • king of kings
  • less and less
  • lies, lies, and more lies
  • little by little
  • live and let live
  • lower and lower
  • louder and louder
  • man to man
  • measure for measure
  • more and more
  • mouth to mouth
  • neck and neck
  • never say never
  • nose to nose
  • on and on
  • out and out
  • over and over
  • round and round
  • run, run, run
  • shoulder to shoulder
  • side by side
  • side to side
  • so and so[1]
  • (and) so on and so forth
  • step by step
  • strength to strength
  • such and such
  • through and through
  • time after time
  • time and time (again)
  • (from) time to time
  • two by two
  • toe to toe
  • (on the) up and up[1]
  • wall to wall
  • for weeks and weeks
  • (from) wire to wire
  • woman to woman

Rhyming slang[edit]

Main article: Rhyming slang

  • Adam and Eve
  • apples and pears
  • bottle and glass
  • Brahms and Liszt
  • dog and bone
  • frog and toad
  • hand and blister
  • north and south
  • rabbit and pork
  • tit for tat
  • trouble and strife
  • two and eight
  • whistle and flute

People and fictional characters[edit]

Further information: Category:Duos


Siamese twins occurring as a pair (that is, having two words occurring together) are also known as binomials. If the variant has three words occurring together, it is also known as a trinomial. Another name for this collocation is tricolon when the three parts are of the same or consistent grammatical form. Many of these could be considered triplets and satisfy the rule of three in writing.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Gramley & Pätzold (2004). A Survey of Modern English (2 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 0-415-30034-7. Retrieved 2012-10-04.   – via Questia (subscription required)
  2. ^ Spick-and-span, Gary Martin,
  3. ^ a b c "8 Amusing Stories Behind Common Expressions | Reader's Digest". 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-12-18. 

External links[edit]