3

When listing a pair of names (like Laverne and Shirley) or a duo of terms connected by "and" (such as "peanut butter and jelly"), is there a reason why one word order would sound better than the reverse? For example, why would "Kenan and Kel" sound better than "Kel and Kenan"?

Is there any evidence of a convention, tradition or unconscious practice that dictates naming conventions (perhaps similar to how there is a specific order to adjectives depending on what type of description they are)?

Obviously there is the factor of which is more familiar (We've always heard it as "Hall and Oates", so naturally it sounds better that way), but is there a rhythm to which might "roll off the tongue" better?

NOTES ON EDITS

  • I've removed references to my own specific case, because it is ultimately irrelevant. Suggestions have been helpful to me personally, but don't help me understand the concept any better.
  • I've removed the word "rule" from my question (the "r" word is practically blasphemous in the English language).
  • 2
    Usually the word with the greater number of syllables goes first, often with a single syllable word at the end: "Morecombe and Wise", "Peters and Lee", "Cannon and Ball", "Little and Large". So really, you should go with "Manhattans and Malts" ;) – JonLarby Jul 27 '16 at 16:22
  • 1
    Manhattans and milkshakes sounds better to me. I think it's common to try to have Stress unstress unstress Stress unstress unstress as the syllable pattern. Milkshakes and manhattans has three unstressed in a row, making it kind of tough to say – Slepz Jul 27 '16 at 16:35
  • 1
    This boarders on opinion-based. I once argued on here that "ladies and gentlemen" conventionalized over "gentlemen and ladies" based on regularity of stress pattern (english.stackexchange.com/questions/321908/…). But as @KevinWorkman points out below, there is sometimes more to it than that. IMO, "Malts and Manhattans" works best (if you're willing to change "milkshakes" to "malts"). It's stress pattern (X - - X -) is okay; and there's a pleasant shock with "manhattans" (alcohol) being the final word. – GoldenGremlin Jul 27 '16 at 18:51
  • 1
    @JonLarby, BBC presenters Radcliffe & Maconie were discussing an EU law that insists that ingredients must be listed in order of percentage content. One consequence was that most British meat-and-potato pies must now be labelled 'potato-and-meat pie'. Maconie quipped that Little & Large will henceforth have to call themselves Large & Little. – David Garner Jul 27 '16 at 19:03
  • 3
    Sadly, there will be no rule because people rank the importance of the following differently: (1) stress pattern, (2) length of words, (3) ease with which vocal articulators glide through words, and (4) semantic effects (like humor). – GoldenGremlin Jul 27 '16 at 20:32
4

I don't think you're going to find one definitive answer.

Some combinations of words "sound better" because of their stress rhythm.

Some are easier to say because of the amount you have to move your mouth (this is called something, but it's been a while since I was an English major). In other words "Hall and Oates" is easier to say because your mouth doesn't have to move much from the "l" in "Hall" to the "a" in "and", or from the "d" in "and" to the "O" in "Oates". Compare that to "Oates and Hall" by thinking about how much your mouth has to move from the "s" in "Oates" to the "a" in "and", or from the "d" in "and" to the "H" in "Hall".

Others sound better because you're just used to them being said that way: I would argue that "Kel and Kenan" is easier to say (judging by the mouth-movement measure), but it "sounds better" as "Kenan and Kel" simply because that's what I grew up hearing. I wouldn't be surprised if they chose the "harder to say" version because it also might be more fun to say, but that's just guessing.

So there is no rule saying which combination sounds better, or is easier to say. There's also no rule saying that everybody should go for the combination that sounds better or is easier to say. It's going to depend entirely on your context.

I would further argue that it doesn't really matter in your case. Both "Milkshakes and Manhattans" and "Manhattans and Milkshakes" have similar stress rhythms and "mouth movement distance". Go with whatever sounds best to you, because I promise nobody else is worrying about it as much as you are.

  • 5
    Good answer, but I would add that there's also sometimes a semantic component. "Milkshakes and Manhattans" is pleasant and slightly humorous because "milkshakes" suggests something innocent and maybe child-oriented, an expectation which is humorously defied when we encounter "manhattans", an alcoholic drink! – GoldenGremlin Jul 27 '16 at 18:53
  • @Silenus Agreed! – Kevin Workman Jul 27 '16 at 18:55
  • @KevinWorkman Thanks for your answer. This is definitely well reasoned. Ultimately, yes, no one could possible care this much about which word comes first, but I asked the question, not so much to get an answer to my specific case, but simply because I find the topic interesting and I was wondering if there were any traditions or conventions on the subject. – user170207 Jul 27 '16 at 20:36
  • 1
    @M-A I agree that it's an interesting question, which is why I answered it. But the answer to your specific case (or any specific case, really) is that it's more subjective than anything. It's really up to you more than any set of rules anybody could come up with. – Kevin Workman Jul 27 '16 at 21:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy