Media Studies

  • noun a unit of two people

Idiom of “dyad”

Dyads, or doublets, are pairs of words that commonly collocate. The word dyad is from Greek dyo (= two). Fowler called dyads Siamese Twins. They are plentiful in but not peculiar to English. Examples are:

aid and abet, alarums and excursions, alive and kicking, best bib and tucker, (every) nook and cranny, footloose and fancy free, hearts and minds, hue and cry, high and dry, might and main, movers and shakers, null and void, pick and choose, rack and ruin, rank and file, rock and roll, sackcloth and ashes, scot and lot, spick and span, tooth and nail, well and truly.

One suggestion for their frequency in English is that dyads became popular during the Norman period, being often made up of one Anglo-Saxon and one Norman French component, as in goods and chattels, full and plenty, might and main. This was one sure way of ensuring understanding in a bilingual society. Certainly we find dyads aplenty in Chaucer and Caxton. And certainly the ‘crafted’ prose style which popularised much Middle English in the 14th to 16th centuries had many characteristics which have been retained by the dyad; these include alliteration, assonance, rhyme and balanced constructions and patterns. Alliterative dyads include bag and baggage, brightest and best, chop and change, dribs and drabs, rack and ruin, safe and sound, slow but sure, warp and woof. Assonance or rhyme gives fair and square, happy clappy, high and dry, naming and shaming, wear and tear, etc. All these features were once meant to ensure a convention of stylised linguistic elegance. And they remain the blood and bone of English.

Recent dyads are, for the most part, slightly underwhelming: shock and awe (from the US bombing of Baghdad), suited and booted (= dressed up), rights and responsibilities (a political cliché?), down and dirty (coarse and unscrupulous), no pain no gain (well known in Puritan philosophy).

Dyads may be adjectives, adverbs, nouns or verbs. Because of their age, many dyads retain lexical components which are otherwise obsolete in English; see the individual entries for best bib and tucker, goods and chattels, meet and right, might and main, spick and span. It is partly this etymological opacity which today makes dyads indubitably idiomatic.

By extension, there are also a few triads, or triplets, in English: see for example the entries for bell, book and candle; hook, line and sinker and lock, stock and barrel.