Irreversible binomial

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The expression "macaroni and cheese" is an irreversible binomial. The order of the two keywords of this familiar expression cannot be reversed idiomatically.

In linguistics and stylistics, an irreversible binomial,[1] (frozen) binomial,[1] binomial pair, binomial expression, (binomial) freeze, or nonreversible word pair[2] is a pair or group of words used together in fixed order as an idiomatic expression or collocation The words belong to the same grammatical category, have some semantic relationship, and are usually connected by the words and or or.

The term "irreversible binomial" was introduced by Yakov Malkiel in 1954, though various aspects of the phenomenon have been discussed since at least 1903 under different names: a "terminological imbroglio".[3] Ernest Gowers used the name Siamese twins (i.e. conjoined twins) in the 1965 edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage. The 2015 edition reverts to the usual scholarly name, "irreversible binomials", as "Siamese twins" had become offensive.[4]

Many irreversible binomials 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 meanings beyond those 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.

The order of elements cannot be reversed.[1]

They may be composed of various parts of speech: milk and honey (two nouns), short and sweet (two adjectives), and do or die (two verbs).

Some English words have become obsolete in general but are still found in an irreversible binomial. For example, spick in spick and span is a fossil word that never appears outside the phrase.[5] Some other words, like vim in vim and vigor or abet in aid and abet, have become rare and archaic outside the collocation.

Some irreversible binomials are used in legalese. Due to the use of precedent in common law, many lawyers use the same collocations found in documents centuries old, many of which are legal doublets of two synonyms, often one of Old English origin, the other of Latin origin: deposes and says, heirs and successors.

While many irreversible binomials are literal expressions (like washer and dryer, rest and relaxation, rich and famous, savings and loan), some are entirely figurative (like come hell or high water, nip and tuck, surf and turf) or mostly figurative (like between a rock and a hard place, five and dime). Others are somewhat in between these extremes because they are more subtle figures of speech, synecdoches, metaphors, or hyperboles (like cat and mouse, sick and tired, barefoot and pregnant, rags to riches). The terms are often the targets of eggcorns, malapropisms, mondegreens, and folk etymology.

Some irreversible binomials have variations: time and time again is frequently shortened to time and again; a person who is covered in tar and feathers (noun) usually gets that way by the action of a mob that tars and feathers (verb) undesirable people.

The precise wording may change the meaning. A give and take is mutual flexibility, while give or take is a numerical approximation. A person can do something whether it is right or wrong in contrast to knowing the difference between right and wrong; each word pair has a subtly differing meaning. And while five and dime is a noun phrase for a low-priced variety store, nickel and dime is a verb phrase for penny-pinching.

Structure[edit]

The words in an irreversible binomial belong to the same part of speech, have some semantic relationship, and are usually connected by and or or. They are often near-synonyms or antonyms, alliterate, or rhyme.

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 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[6]
  • no fuss, no muss
  • handy-dandy
  • harum-scarum
  • helter skelter
  • high and dry[1][2]
  • hire and fire[1]
  • hit it and quit
  • hither and thither
  • hocus pocus
  • hoi polloi
  • hoity toity
  • hot to trot
  • huff and puff[2]
  • hustle and bustle
  • lap and gap
  • lean, mean, fightin' machine
  • lick 'em and stick 'em
  • lout and proud
  • mean, green, fightin' 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
  • out and proud
  • pell-mell
  • pump and dump
  • rough and tough
  • shout and clout
  • saggy baggy
  • shake and bake
  • slowly but surely
  • smoke and joke
  • son of a gun
  • stash and dash
  • stop and drop
  • so far, so good
  • 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

Legal terminology[edit]

Known as legal doublets, there are many collocations and merisms which are repetitively used in a legal or official context. Many of these can be found in legal documents dating back centuries; their habitual use has been decried by some legal scholars as superfluous in modern legal briefs.[8] There are also legal triplets, which are listed below in their own section.


Conjunction[edit]

The most common conjunctions in an irreversible binomial 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
  • black or white
  • business or pleasure[2]
  • the chicken or the egg
  • day or night
  • dead or alive[2]
  • do or die
  • fight or flight
  • (neither) fish nor fowl
  • give or take[1]
  • good or bad
  • gentle or simple
  • he or she
  • heads or tails
  • (come) hell or high water
  • (neither) here nor there
  • (neither) hide nor hair
  • his or her
  • 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
  • now or never
  • put up or shut up
  • rain or shine[2]
  • rhyme or reason
  • right or wrong[2]
  • sink or swim
  • sooner or later[2]
  • take it or leave it
  • two or more
  • up or down[2]
  • (neither) use nor ornament
  • victory or death
  • win or lose
  • yes or no

With no conjunction[edit]

People and fictional characters[edit]

Rhyming slang[edit]

  • Adam and Eve
  • apples and pears
  • bottle and glass[note 5]
  • 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

Variants[edit]

Irreversible binomials are sometimes isocolons (bicolons, tricolons, etc.) which have become set phrases.

They may also be called simply binomials.

With three words, they may be called trinomials, and may satisfy the rule of three in writing.

Common trinomials[edit]

Legal triplets[edit]

  • cancel, annul, and set aside[8]
  • convey, transfer, and set over[8]
  • give, devise, and bequeath[8]
  • grant, bargain, sell[8]
  • name, constitute, and appoint[8]
  • ordered, adjudged, and decreed[9]
  • remise, release, and forever quit claim[8]
  • rest, residue, and remainder[8]
  • right, title, and interest[8]
  • signed, sealed, and delivered[9]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Etymologically synonyms; functionally antonyms.
  2. ^ In the United Kingdom eggs and bacon is the common term and saying bacon and eggs would out the user as American.
  3. ^ In the United Kingdom, synonymous to bob and weave in common parlance and origin from the world of boxing (i.e. pugilistic).
  4. ^ A jocular nonsense reply to the question (usually a child's) of "what's for dinner (breakfast, or lunch)?" London usage, now all but archaic.
  5. ^ Or more commonly just bottle, which leads on to aris from aristotle that is the rhyming slang for bottle.
  6. ^ Jocular variant

References[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 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. ^ 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 af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg Word Pairs
  3. ^ Yakov Malkiel, "Studies in irreversible binomials", Lingua 8:113-160 (1959) full text PDF
  4. ^ Jeremy Butterfield, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 4th edition, 2015, ISBN 0199661359, p. 436, s.v. "irreversible binomials"
  5. ^ a b Martin, Gary. Spick-and-span, Phrases.org.uk
  6. ^ a b c "8 Amusing Stories Behind Common Expressions | Reader's Digest". Reader's Digest. 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  7. ^ "life and limb | meaning of life and limb in Longman Dictionary of contemporary English | LDOCE". Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online. LDOCE. Retrieved 7 December 2018. life and limb formal your life and physical health – used especially when this is threatened in some way
  8. ^ 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 af ag ah ai aj ak al Espenschied, Lenné Eidson (2010). "10.1 Eliminate clutter and redundant language § Eliminate common doublets and triplets". Contract Drafting: Powerful Prose in Transactional Practice. ABA Fundamentals0. Chicago: American Bar Association. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-1-60442-795-0. LCCN 2010003298. OCLC 505017586. OL 15443452W.
  9. ^ a b c Ingels, Mia B. (2006). "2.2.1.3. Doublets and triplets". Legal English Communication Skills. Learning English. Leuven, Belgium: Academische Coöperatieve Vennootschap. pp. 60–61. ISBN 90-334-6112-9. OCLC 150389897.
  10. ^ "Doublets". TransLegal. 12 January 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-09-08.
  11. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (2011). Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage. Rev. ed. of: A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 577. ISBN 978-0-19-538420-8. LCCN 2011004242. OCLC 671709669. OL 24973858M.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Sarah Bunin Benor, Roger Levy, "The Chicken or the Egg?: A Probabilistic Analysis of English Binomials", Language 82:2:233-278 (June 2006) JSTOR 4490157 full text
  • Ourania Hatzidaki, "Binomials and the Computer: a Study in Corpus-Based Phraseology", ALLC/ACH Conference, University of Glasgow, July 2000 abstract