Pointless Observations

And now for some observations on word order conventions:

Why are there “mom & pop” stores but not “pop & mom” stores? In fact, Google reveals that “pop & mom” appears fewer than 19,000 times on line while “mom & pop” has 1.38 million iterations. We are very specific about the order in which couples find themselves. Like “mom & pop,” “mom & dad” (over 13 million hits) far outnumbers “dad & mom” (fewer than 1 million appearances online). Likewise, we talk about “grandma & grandpa” (1 million 700 thousand occurrences) but ignore poor old “grandpa & grandma” (549,000), and “aunts & uncles” make 868,000 more appearances than “uncles & aunts.” But, cheer up male partners: “Mr. & Mrs.” overshadows “Mrs. and Mr.” by a nearly seven to one margin. And, “boys & girls” outnumber “girls & boys” by about the same ratio. On the other hand, “ladies & gentlemen” still beats “gentlemen & ladies” by well over ten to one.

Need more reflections on common phrases that normally pass through our lips unchallenged? Why “this and that,” but never “that and this”? How come “sooner or later,” but never “later or sooner”? Did anyone ever say, “Cher and Sonny“? “Yarnell and Sheilds“? “Marie and Donny“? “Robin and Batman“? “Bean Sprout and the Jolly Green Giant“?

Finally, we tend to ask if people want to hear, “the good news or the bad news,” instead of vice-versa, and, “comedy and and tragedy” appears twice as often in a Google search than, “tragedy and comedy.” However, we say, “in sickness and in health” instead of, “in health and in sickness.” So, sometimes we like the bad to come first.

What have we learned from all of this? For one thing, it’s that people aren’t very inventive in the way they communicate. Perhaps, just perhaps, we have also learned how to fill up a blog post with pointless observations.

I also think that it’s fun to be mindful of our speech and to mix things up a bit, if only to confuse people.

Click here for some more word questions:


2 Responses to Pointless Observations

  1. Kim says:

    I was going to say that the cadence of American English makes these phrases sound better in the order they are most frequently used. But then I started saying aloud, “Aunts and uncles. Uncles and aunts.” Rhythmically they’re both punchy and…right. And rhythmically, if “Aunts and uncles” sounds right, then why not “Cher and Sonny?”

    So I think it has to come down to the societal subconscious. “Aunts and uncles,” “Mom and Pop,” “Grandma and Grandpa” all occur because the matriarchal role is viewed as more important than the patriarchal. (Who holds the family together? The woman doing all the work and nurturing – traditionally, at least – or the man who works hard to support the family financially but really only comes home for dinner and weekends? Again, speaking of traditional roles, which I think hold the roots of these particular phrases.)

    In the case of “Sonny and Cher,” first of all, didn’t they bill themselves that way? So it’s basically the trademark. That aside, I would say that Sonny and thus the publicity staff viewed him as more important, more famous, or more dominant in the duo.

    In some pairings it comes down to which of the subjects we think “come first.” “Socks and shoes,” for instance. You don’t put them on the other way around. 😉


    • EricIndiana says:

      I was looking for a similar meaning to explain “Mom & Pop” stores – maybe the women traditionally took care of the business while the men, uh, mowed the lawn? But then, “Mr. & Mrs.” reverses that, so I’m not sure. Or, to reverse the thinking, the Church puts husbands in charge of wives, so that pair-order makes sense, but then “mom & pop” conflicts with it… unless, we put mom & grandma first because those words refer to their roles in nurturing. So, mothers take care of us, traditionally, and thus go first, and then “mom & pop stores” is said that way only because people are used to any word for mother coming before a word for father. Ahhh… now it all makes sense.

      And I was just being silly about Sonny & Cher… but truthfully, it seems like every famous male/female couple has the man listed first… the Captain & Tennille, Astaire & Rodgers….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: