Why do we often say "kith and kin" and not "kin and kith"? I was taught to believe that family comes first and the other later, and I do still believe in what I was taught.
I'll try to satisfy your curiosity.
Kith originally meant your native land. So kith and kin was "country and relatives". The idea behind the phrase was that country is more important than family. This sentiment promoted patriotism and people were motivated to leave their families and serve their countries.
kith evolved to mean your society, or your friends and relatives.
Since the relatives part is already covered in
kith in the phrase only stands for friends now, and nobody using it is implying that friends are more important than family.
[source - oxford]
"Kith and Kin" is an example of an irreversible binomial. An irreversible binomial is a co-ordination of words, usually of the same word class (so both nouns, both adjectives and so forth), whose order is idiomatically fixed. Some writers refer to binomials as freezes.
Most people, including me, find binomials quite fun and interesting to spot. Here's a few for your delectation (As Janus points out in a helpful comment below, some of these might be 'reversible binomials'):
Binomials from nouns:
- bacon and eggs
- knife and fork
- kith and Kin
- bow and arrow
- ladies and gentlemen
- life and soul
- head and shoulders
- heaven and hell
- rythm and blues
- your money or your life
- thunder and lightning
Binomials from verbs:
- duck and dive
- stand and deliver
- pushing and shoving
- wait and see
- umming and ahing
Binomials with prepositions:
- above and beyond
- in and out
- up and down
- round and round (not sure if this counts)
And of course there's trinomials too:
- men, women and children.
- sex and drugs and rock'nroll (really more of a quadrinomial).
- in no way, shape or form
- blood, sweat and tears
- tall, dark and handsome
- me, myself and I
Possible explanation for the ordering of "kith and kin"
I cannot give an expert opinion on why kith and kin fossilized in this order. However, from the little I know from Cooper and Ross's paper, one theory would be this: kith and kin have similar meanings and the beginnings of the words are phonetically very similar; they both begin with /kɪ/. It's quite likely that the main factor under such circumstances is that we would prefer the last word to end with a nasal consonant such as /n/, over a fricative such as /θ/.
Cooper and Ross give the following hierarchy for words that differ only in their final consonant (in those pairings where there is no ordering based on semantics for various reasons). Words that end with the types of consonants further to the right in the list below are likely to be in the final position.
- Stops - Aspirants - Nasals - Liquids - Glides
Basically the more obstruent-like the final consonant the more likely that word is to be first in the pairing. In case you aren't au fait with phonetic terminology, the more "consonant-like" the final consonant is the more likely that word is to be first in the pairing. The more "vowel-like" it is the more likely it is to be second. The final consonant in kith is the fricative /θ/ which would count as an aspirant. The final consonant in kin is the nasal /n/, so this would account for the pairing here.
The reason for my reluctance to state this as the definitive reason is that the meaning of these words has changed over time and there might be some semantic reason that I'm unaware of, why the ordering should be this way.