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The Siamese twins of language

WE ARE familiar with the terms Siamese twins in the medical field. But to speak of Siamese twins in the field of language, does it not sound odd? This is the term used by H. W. Fowler to describe a pair of words joined together by "and" or "or". The words constituting these "verbal twins" are by and large, (a Siamese twin) inseparable. They follow a fixed irreversible order and the pair conveys a single, total, inclusive meaning. Siamese twins carry an idiomatic sense. Synonyms or near synonyms are clubbed together for the sake of emphasis. Prices go up by leaps and bounds. We put our heart and soul into a job or stuff bits and pieces into the bag or buy odds and ends. The two methods to all intents and purposes are identical. The contract becomes null and void. The manager knows the nuts and bolts of administration. Hue and cry in the sense of loud protest or clamour has developed from a French legal phrase hue cri meaning "outcry and cry". It originally signified a cry by the public for the pursuit and capture of a criminal.

Some pairs have the element of alliteration — part and parcel, bag and baggage, through thick and thin, spick and span, fun and frolic, bread and butter, rhyme or reason, safe and sound. Some consist of words expressive of associated or similar ideas — sum and substance, ways and means, born and bred. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, flotsam and jetsam, rank and file. There are pairs made up of opposites — blow hot and cold, hither and thither, fast and loose, by hook or by crook, now and then, highways and byways, up and downs.

Pairs like on and on, by and by, out and out, through and through, illustrate verbal repetition. In linguistics, these verbal pairs are called binomials in which the word order is fixed and the component words, if used by themselves, make no sense. ("My cousin has left the village bag and baggage" and not "my cousin has left the village bag" and "my cousin has left the village baggage"). A trinomial is a set which includes three words in a fixed, unalterable order — lock, stock and barrel, Tom, Dick and Harry, good, bad and indifferent, stop, look and proceed. Verbal twins composed of synonyms/antonyms/verbal repetitions are established idioms. They may be clichés but they come in handy and cannot be dismissed as mistakes. But there are two forms of expression — tautology and pleonasm — which should be avoided as they may result in flawed style. Tautology lies in the use of two different expressions to convey the same meaning. One of them is redundant. The members entered the hall one after another in succession. The resolution was passed unanimously by all the members. Our chief guest is an erudite scholar noted for his wisdom and sagacity. We received a free gift. Lunch was provided free of cost. I will hand it over to the principal in person. We have enclosed herewith a copy of the report (official letters). If suppose, we are late, we will miss the bus (common in Indian English). Allied to tautology is pleonasm in which more words than necessary are used. We will take up the matter for discussion, if and when necessary. The suspended students will not be readmitted unless and until they give a written apology. Pleonasm is used for emphasis — perfect gentleman, total failure or success, utter nonsense, through blackguard, cent percent guarantee. The witness while deposing in the court says "I will speak the truth, only the truth, and nothing but the truth". "I saw the incident with my own eyes. I heard the conversation with my own ears".

S. Jagadisan

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