23

Is there a word or phrase for two nouns or adjectives joined by a conjunction (usually "and") in a fixed sequence?

  • alive and well
  • fast and furious
  • hat and gloves
  • pen and pencil
  • law and order
  • wit and wisdom
  • salt and pepper
  • bacon and eggs
  • horse and carriage
  • Adam and Eve
  • ladies and gentlemen
  • loud and clear
  • heads or tails
  • yes or no
  • dead or alive
22

Yes, they're usually called Irreversible Binomials - Binomials for short - or Binominals. (Unfortunately, Binomials is also a mathematical term). I've read about them under the term freezes as used by John Lawler in the comments, but the majority of the literature and also grammar references that talk about this, that I'm aware of, use the term Binomials.

Binomials have two main characteristics. The first, as noted by the Original Poster, is that the order is usually perceived as fixed. The second is that the two terms are normally the same part of speech, though not always Nouns. Three of the examples in the Original Poster's list were Adjective pairings: alive and well, fast and furious, dead or alive. You can find verbs too:

  • duck and dive
  • stand and deliver
  • pushing and shoving
  • wait and see

and of course prepositions:

  • above and beyond
  • in and out
  • up and down
  • round and round (I'm not sure that should be in there, but it is irreversible!)

People are still writing books about them: The (Ir)reversibility of English Binomials: Corpus, constraints, developments ...

And of course they're a hot topic for EFL students everywhere who don't want to get their forks and knives the wrong way round! BBC Binomials

Here's a Wikipedia entry that also calls them Siamese twins as well as binomial pairs: Siamese pairs, binomials, freezes

Binomials occur in many languages and are often the subject of academic research. There's also trinomials of course:

  • men, women and children.
  • sex and drugs and rock'nroll (though that's really a 4-nomial in my opinion).
  • in no way, shape or form
  • blood, sweat and tears
  • tall, dark and handsome
  • me, myself and I

So, you've got a choice here: Siamese pairs, freezes, irreversible binomials, binomials, binomial pairs or binominals! But don't forget trinomials too.

  • 5
    The 'fork and knife' example reminded me of the old Monty Python sketch where an Irish diner asks of a waiter 'Where's me fork 'n knife?' and gets the unexpected reply 'beside yer forkun plate!'. – WS2 Sep 26 '14 at 17:50
  • A slip (about "adjectives") Great answer. – Centaurus Sep 26 '14 at 21:46
  • @user463240 Thanks! I didn't notice about the adjectives till I tried to come up with some adjective ones on my own and then saw one of them in your question :) Nice question! – Araucaria Sep 26 '14 at 21:50
  • Would you add the word "irreversible" before "binomials" so I can accept your answer? – Centaurus Sep 28 '14 at 12:36
  • 1
    Imo, it doesn't meet the criteria of oft-used or well known. As for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I don't know if it's a trinomial or just a quote. Probably a quote that became a fixed trinomial (akin to life, liberty, and property?) – pazzo Sep 28 '14 at 16:43
3

As mentioned in a comment, collocation is relevant (albeit less specific than freezes, mentioned in John Lawler's comment). From en.wiktionary it means

(linguistics, translation studies) A sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance (i.e., the statistically significant placement of particular words in a language). [eg]

1968, John Rupert Firth, Frank Robert Palmer, Selected Papers of J.R. Firth, 1952–1959, Longmans, p 181:
Collocations of a given word are statements of the habitual or customary places of that word in a collocational order but not in any other contextual order and emphatically not in grammatical order

Also relevant is set phrase. From en.wiktionary, it means “(grammar) A common expression whose wording is not subject to variation”.

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