The Grammarphobia Blog

An itsy bitsy teenie weenie question

Q: I recently came across the expression “sleight of hand” in connection with the magician’s art. It occurred to me that the word “sleight” is almost always accompanied by the appendage. Is there a name for this kind of word or usage, and what are some other examples?

A: Some words always seem to appear in pairs (as in the old saying about nuns!). H. W. Fowler called words like these “Siamese twins,” and he used examples like “alas and alack,” “betwixt and between,” “gall and wormwood,” “leaps and bounds,” and “lo and behold.”

I might add “sackcloth and ashes” and “wrack and ruin” (see my blog entry touching on that one).

If the pair rhymes (or almost does), it can be called a “rhyming compound.” A few examples: “flotsam and jetsam”; “boogie-woogie”; “dilly dally”; “itsy bitsy,” and so on.


Something is never just itsy or bitsy. It’s an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini.

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