Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Possible Duplicate:
What are the principles that make certain lists sound euphonious?
Name for a type of idiom with two things joined (like “raining cats and dogs”, “bread and butter”)

Is there a word to describe a preferred order in which we describe a list of items (usually two items)?

The following examples illustrate my question better:

"Mom and Dad" ("Dad and Mom" is equally correct but sounds wrong)

"Big And Tall" (In AmE/Culture, this refers to a clothing retailer for larger people; It's never a "Tall And Big" store)

"Food And Drink"

"Black and Blue", "Black and White" (these may just be expressions versus being lists)

There are certainly others but I can't think of them now.

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by KitFox, Matt Эллен, aedia λ, FumbleFingers, jwpat7 Mar 15 '12 at 18:44

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
Interesting point. I'm not sure that there's even any consistency. Like we always say "mom and dad" -- the woman first -- but "husband and wife" -- the man first. –  Jay Mar 15 '12 at 17:23
    
@KitFox I don't think that's really the same question. The referenced question asks if there's a name for the pair; this question asks if there's a rule or pattern to the ordering of the pair. –  Jay Mar 15 '12 at 17:25
    
Then I think you should edit your question to ask if there's a rule or pattern, because you have asked for a word to describe a preferred order, which I think fits the other question. –  KitFox Mar 15 '12 at 17:30
    
@KitFox: Agreed your dup is more "precise" than the one I chose, but the two concepts are very closely bound up. Besides which, if I recall, there's no actual "answer word" such as OP seeks anyway, and he is much concerned with the basic question of why Dad and Mom, raining dogs and cats, etc. don't turn up so often. –  FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 18:19
add comment

3 Answers 3

There's a very interesting classic treatment of this phenomenon, using both phonology and semantics, in

  • Cooper, William E. and Haj Ross. 1975. "World Order", in Grossman, Robin E., L. James San, and Timothy J. Vance, eds. Papers from the Parasession on Functionalism, April 17th, 1975, Chicago Linguistic Society.

In particular, Cooper and Ross use the term freezes for cases like bigger and better, fore and aft, kit and caboodle where "the ordering of the two conjuncts is rigidly fixed in normal speech."

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you for the edit, @jwpat7. –  John Lawler Mar 15 '12 at 18:52
    
I used to be fascinated by the fact that when my parents referred to me and my ex as a couple, they always named me first, whereas my inlaws always named her first. And it was always interesting to note which way round any of our "joint" friends did it - to me, it was often a "statement", but rarely made consciously (a bit like "body language"). –  FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 18:55
    
I notice, btw, that none of the "exact duplicate" answers mentioned Cooper and Ross, so I'm glad I posted fast. –  John Lawler Mar 15 '12 at 18:57
    
And also btw, the version of "World Order" on my website has Haj's recent corrections pencilled in. –  John Lawler Mar 15 '12 at 18:59
    
Excellent link! One to peruse on the e-reader, I feel. –  FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 19:31
add comment

A very interesting point which Steven Pinker mentions in 'The Language Instinct' is that where one element in such pairs has a high, front vowel and the other has a low, back vowel, the former always precedes the latter. It's always ping-pong, chit-chat, dribs and drabs, spick and span and so on and never the other way round.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think we say them that way by convention.

share|improve this answer
    
Nah - there's more to it than just "convention. It's true "my Dad and Mom" occurs less than 1/3rd as often as "my Mom and Dad" in Google Books. But "my Father and Mother" is actually more common than "my Mother and Father". That's because the "formal register" is more influenced by the fact that linguistically and over history, the male is prioritised, but the shorter (familial) forms are more influenced by the fact that children normally bond to mothers before fathers. –  FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 18:50
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.