Words with Partners, Part ll: “Conjoined words” (or “irreversible binomials,” if we want to be more formal 🤓🤔)

Glosso is reposting a popular mini-series about “words with partners”.

The second* post of Glossophilia’s short series on “words with partners” looks at “conjoined words.” (When this post was first published just a few years ago the term commonly used was “Siamese twins”, but for hopefully obvious reasons this name has fallen out of favor.) In more formal linguistic terms we’re talking about “irreversible binomials”. Yeah, that sounds stuffy and boring, but these little binomials – of whom Tom and Jerry are a famous example – are fun when you get to know and understand them. 

“Conjoined words,” linguistically speaking, are pairs of words — separated by an and or an or— that form an idiomatic expression. They’re made of nouns (“life or death”, “fish and chips”), adjectives (“hale and hearty”, “loud and clear”), verbs (“mix and match”), and even prepositions (“to and fro”).  These little phrases are catchy, sometimes cliched, and because they often use alliteration or rhymes, or simply because you hear them all the time, they roll off the tongue with ease. And perhaps what distinguishes them most and sets them apart  from other simple word pairs is the fact that the order of the words within the phrase is never reversed. “The bees and the birds”? “Roll and rock”? Nah … They just don’t compute.

Here are some of the most common conjoined words in the English language; please add any more you can think of to the comments section below.

Aid and abet

Beck and call

The birds and the bees

Cat and mouse

Do or die

Five and dime

Give and take

Give or take

Hale and hearty

(Come) hell or high water

Life or death

Loud and clear

Milk and honey

Mix and match

Nickel and dime

Nip and tuck

Rags to riches

Rest and relaxation

Rich and famous

Right or wrong

(Between) a rock and a hard place

Rock and roll

Short and sweet

Sick and tired

Surf and turf

To and fro

Wear and tear

Using obsolete words:

Spick and span

Vim and vigour

See also these examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang (which is discussed in an earlier Glosso post – “He can’t drive home: he’s Brahms and Liszt!“), which uses rhyming “Siamese twins” as its basis.

*  See last week’s “I can’t live, if living is without you” about fossil words; later in the week, continuing this romp through “words with partners,” we’ll look at the triplet or trinomial — which I guess could be called “a linguistic ménage à trois.” Plus food pairs….

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