10 Varieties of Linguistic Siamese Twins
One of the most intriguing aspects of idiomatic phrases is their fixed nature, an aspect acknowledged in two terms for the class of idioms distinguished by the use of the conjunction and or the conjunction or between the constituent words: irreversible binomials and freezes. (They are also referred to as binomials or binomial pairs, or are identified by the colloquial expression “Siamese twins.”)
Ten sometimes overlapping variations of linguistic Siamese twins (which, because they are often clichés, should be used with caution) follow, including a category for triplets:
1. Binomials connected with and include “alive and well,” “nuts and bolts,” and “skin and bone.”
2. Binomials connected with or include “give or take,” “more or less,” and “win or lose.”
3. Binomials connected with other words include “dawn till dusk,” “front to back,” “head over heels.”
4. Binomials that contain opposites or antonyms include “days and nights,” “high or low,” and “up and down.”
5. Binomials that contain related words or synonyms include “house and home,” “leaps and bounds,” and “prim and proper.”
6. Binomials that contain alliteration include “friend or foe,” “rant and rave,” and “tried and true.”
7. Binomials that contain numbers include “four or five” — note that the linguistic convention is to always state the lower number first (a figurative idiom is this category is “at sixes and sevens,” meaning “in a confused state”)
8. Binomials that contain similar-sounding words: “doom and gloom,” “out and about,” and “wear and tear.” This category includes rhyming slang, in which a word or phrase is slang code for a word that rhymes with the second binomial term in the phrase (even though only the first binomial term may constitute the slang) and is either random, as in minces, from “mince pies,” for eyes, or suggestive, as in trouble, from “trouble and strife,” for wife.
9. Binomials that contain exact or near repetition include “dog eat dog,” “kill or be killed,” or “neck and neck.”
10. Trinomials, which contain three terms, include “blood, sweat, and tears,” “left, right, and center,” and “win, lose, and draw.”
Take care, when using these clichés, to reproduce them correctly (unless you are deliberately — and obviously — distorting them for emphatic or humorous effect, as when referring to fashionably ripped jeans as “tear and wear”) so that erroneous usage does not have a negative impact on your overall message.