I had heard, a number of years ago, that there is a name for an type of idiomatic expression in which two things are joined to refer to one thing.

An example of this would be “raining cats and dogs”. This does not mean that cats is a metaphor for one type of rain, and dogs another, but rather that the combined terms form a joint expression with a single referent.

Likewise, “bread and butter” could be used similarly, e.g., “they should waste their time trying to sell frozen steaks; jewelry is QVC’s bread and butter”.

Is there a name for the specific type of idiomatic expression?


2 Answers 2


The generic term collocation includes idiomatically paired nouns, which both OP's examples are. So I'd say they are collocated pairs.

Other idiomatic usages such as strong tea and powerful computers are also collocations. In those cases, competent speakers recognise powerful tea and strong computers as "wrong", primarily because we're used to the other versions. Grammar and meaning aren't really relevant - it's just a matter of what people happen to say.

It's also worth noting that we never say it's raining dogs and cats. But as this NGram shows, we actually use that sequence more often than cats and dogs when we're not talking about the weather. Word sequence is one of the attributes of a collocation, though - coach and horses only occurs in that order.

  • That's a little nice explanation you've got there.
    – user13141
    Oct 16, 2011 at 11:32
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    @onomatomaniak: I can't deny I already pontificated about noun-pair order back on this question. It's fascinated me ever since I first noticed nobody else was noticing that my parents put my name first when refering to me and my wife, but my in-laws put her name first. But I know I haven't really answered OP's exact question - if there is indeed a special term for the two nouns = one referent concept, I just don't know it. Oct 16, 2011 at 13:34
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    Haha I'll be on the lookout for Nimble then, if she's as attractive as you say (and good at house/bedwork, as I'd like to hope the name implies). When I started using my handle back in the late 90s, my (now ex-) wife briefly used FumbleToes, but it never really worked... :) Oct 16, 2011 at 14:56
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    @Fraser Orr: My core point in the answer was that "collocated pairs" normally have a specific order. In the case of cats and dogs or dogs and cats, these two often occur together, but not markedly in either sequence. Except in the idiomatic expression raining cats and dogs, which is always in that order. If my "evidence" didn't support any of those assertions, it was probably because I didn't think any of it was contentious. Or maybe because I was just careless. Anyway, I don't think we really disagree on anything substantive. :) Oct 16, 2011 at 20:49
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    "bread and butter" and "cats and dogs" are examples of irreversible binomials, binomial pairs, freezes, and Siamese twins It's much more than collocations. See also related question which I posted beneath the OP.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 28, 2017 at 19:45

I believe the word for this is hendiadys: literally "one from two". The term is used when two things are joined together to refer to one.

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