Siamese twins (linguistics)

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

Siamese twins (also irreversible binomials,[1] binomials,[1] binomial pairs, nonreversible word pairs,[2] or freezes) in the context of the English language refer to a pair or group 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.

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.

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.[3] In other cases an English word (like vim in vim and vigor or 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.

Certain Siamese twins are known for their use in legalese. Due to the use of precedent in common law, many lawyers use the same collocations found in documents centuries old. So rather than a person "enunciating" a "narrative" or recollecting about a situation, a legal brief will instead declare that a person deposes and says something pertinent. Likewise, a person who bequeaths property habitually writes of his heirs and successors and not some alternative construct.

While many Siamese twins 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).

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. 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.

Similarly, some Siamese twins mean something different depending on the conjunction between the words. For example a give and take refers to two-way or mutual flexibility, whereas give or take means a numerical approximation. Another example: 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 different meaning.


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 <span id="Examples of Siamese twins with "and" as the conjunction">

With "or" or "nor" as the conjunction <span id="Examples of Siamese twins with "or" or "nor" or as the conjunction">

  • 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]
  • 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


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

With related words and synonyms

With alliteration

With numbers

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

  • 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[4]
  • no fuss, no muss
  • handy-dandy
  • harum-scarum
  • helter skelter
  • high and dry[1][2]
  • hire and fire[1]
  • hither and thither
  • hocus pocus
  • hoi polloi
  • hot to trot
  • huff and puff[2]
  • 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
  • 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

Some of these are examples of reduplication.

  • actor's actor (an)
  • 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
  • poet's poet
  • run, run, run
  • shoulder to shoulder
  • side by side
  • side to side
  • so and so[1]
  • (and) so forth and so on'
  • 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

Legal terminology

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.[5] There are also legal triplets, which are listed below in their own section.

People and fictional characters

Rhyming slang

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


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.

Common trinomials

Legal triplets

  • cancel, annul, and set aside[5]
  • convey, transfer, and set over[5]
  • give, devise, and bequeath[5]
  • grant, bargain, sell[5]
  • name, constitute, and appoint[5]
  • ordered, adjudged, and decreed[6]
  • remise, release, and forever quit claim[5]
  • rest, residue, and remainder[5]
  • right, title, and interest[5]
  • signed, sealed and delivered[6]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 Word Pairs
  3. 1 2 Spick-and-span, Gary Martin,
  4. 1 2 3 "8 Amusing Stories Behind Common Expressions | Reader's Digest". 2011-11-13. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 Espenschied, Lenné Eidson (2010). "10.1 Eliminate clutter and redundant language § Eliminate common doublets and triplets". Contract Drafting: Powerful Prose in Transactional Practice. ABA Fundamentals. Chicago: American Bar Association. pp. 164–165. ISBN 978-1-60442-795-0. LCCN 2010003298. OCLC 505017586. OL 15443452W.
  6. 1 2 3 Ingels, Mia B. (2006). " Doublets and triplets". Legal English Communication Skills. Learning English. Leuven, Belgium: Academische Coöperatieve Vennootschap. pp. 60–61. ISBN 90-334-6112-9. OCLC 150389897.
  7. "Doublets". TransLegal. 12 January 2010. Archived from the original on 8 September 2013.
  8. 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.

External links

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