Binominals /baɪˈnɒmɪnəlz/ are a type of idiom in which two words are joined by a conjunction, usually and. The order of the two words is fixed. For example, we always say black-and-white, not white-and-black: I love black-and-white photos. 

The words can be:

  • synonyms: Her clothes are always neat and clean. I know just bits and pieces (small parts). 
  • opposites: The trains are often late, so getting to work on time is a hit-and-miss (sometimes successful and sometimes not) affair. The secret of a happy marriage is a little bit of give and take (a situation in which people who want different things each give something to the others and get something from the others).
  • rhyming: Most tires will last for four years with normal wear and tear (the damage that comes from ordinary use). You can slice and dice the data to analyze them (to divide something into many small parts).
  • the same word: They finished the race neck and neck (at or near an equal level). I’m a city girl through and through (100%). 
  • alliterative (alliteration is the use of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words in a sentence): You’ll learn about trials and tribulations (difficulties and problems involved) of running your own business as soon as you start it. He’s been beaten black and blue (covered in bruises). 
  • joined by words other than and: The cars are bumper-to-bumper (in a long line of vehicles that are close together and moving very slowly). I don’t like your all-or-nothing approach (involving either the whole of something or none of it). 

Trinominals are a similar type of idiom, in which three words are joined, e.g. I’ve looked here, there and everywhere for my keys (everywhere). Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is a nickname for rock stars’ lifestyle, but I don’t believe every rock star has that kind of lifestyle (rock’n’roll is a binomial). I poured my blood, sweat and tears into that project (a lot of effort and hard work). 


Example Meaning
Let’s do heads or tails. Heads, we don’t buy. Tails, we buy. Let’s flip/toss a coin…
I want to live away from the hustle and bustle of the city. … away from the noisy activity…
Time after time I told him not to touch my things. He never listened. Time and again…
We are like chalk and cheese. … completely different.
By and large, it’s a good idea. In general…
The team is more or less the same as it was. … almost …
We were together on and off for five years. … sometimes but nor regularly…
Let’s look at the pros and cons of this format. … the advantages and disadvantages…
Stress is part and passel of being a politician. … an integral part of…
Please keep your report short and sweet. … not too long or complicated.
People came from far and wide to listen to the lecture. … from many different places…
I hope my message is loud and clear. … clearly expressed and easy to understand.
The drawer is stuffed full of odds and ends. … small things that are all different and not valuable or important.
I like the flat spick and span. … very clean and tidy.
Win or lose, I’m there for you. Whether you succeed or fail
People don’t go changing their names willy-nilly. … carelessly/without planning.
She can make or break my career. She is the factor which decides whether I will succeed or fail at my career.
The chair is rocking back and forth. … to and fro.
I just want a little peace and quiet. … calm and silence.
The deal is done and dusted. … finished/decided (primarily British English). 

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