As I was taught, the word order in idiomatic pairs is fixed and should be remembered once and for all. So, the position of the words in an idiom pair can't be reversed, and you cannot say (and a native speaker would hardly ever do it) for example, "reason and rhyme", "tired and sick" or "baggage and bag".

At the same time, revising idiomatic pairs I came across the "gloom and doom" and "doom and gloom" pairs each of which seems to be valid. This made me think that there may be more (I think there are few if any) such idiomatic pairs a couple of which a literate native speaker might suggest off the top of their head.

May it be that these two pairs are different in their usage (not in general meaning) and they are just two separate idiom pairs, each one being used in a different context? I would think so if the example of the usage were not the same as for the one and so for the other:

The situation isn't all gloom and doom...

The situation isn't all doom and gloom...

So what's the ins and outs? Or there really are a few more idiom pairs with non-fixed word order? What are they, if someone can recollect?

  • 1
    You may be interested in The (Ir)reversibility of English Binomials by Sandra Mollin of the University of Heidelburg, who has published a number of papers on English binomials.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


doom|gloom is a relatively recent pairing and is not "etched in stone". That the two words are monosyllabic, simply a pair of single words connected by and, synonymous, and rhyme also make it more likely that they could switch positions.

  • The monosyllabic and rhyming "by hook or by crook" is the one I could think of so far. On checking, the answer is no--there's no "by crook or by hook" idiom; although I keep searching. Technically, it's a tall order-- there are no any reliable lists of idiomatic pairs alone that I've been able to find so far except for a 150-page book by a Russian philologist. Could you recommend any good book on the subject of my current interest? Any web link you know?
    – Victor B.
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 14:43
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    @Rompey: I don't know of any such lists, sorry. But such a list would be fairly lengthy. Pomp and circumstance, piss and vinegar, vim and vinegar, vim and vigor are a few more. Maybe if you search with them you might find your way to a monograph about the subject. thoughtco.com/what-is-binomial-words-1689027
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 15:03

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