• Philip M Russell

Speaking better English - Merisms

Updated: May 25


Merisms What are they and how would you use then in spoken English?
Speaking better English - Merisms

Dictionaries define a merism as a reference to something by its polar extremes, as in "we searched high and low" For example I searched high and low for the key. A Merism is a figure of speech by which something is referred to by a phrase that described the whole something by counting all its parts.


Here are just a few Merisms

He fell for the plot hook, line and sinker. This is from fishing. All the parts of a fishing setup.

He sold the business lock, stock and barrel. This merism comes from the anatomy of a gun, the lock the bit that did the firing, the stock the part held, and the barrel. So, the phrase is about the whole being the sum of its parts.

Other phrases include:

nook and cranny

day and night

male and female

better or for worse

richer for poorer

ladies and gentlemen

young and old

flesh and bone

sun sea and sand

life and soul

Two items are often compared to represent the whole

The last will and testament - 2 documents in two different courts that applied to the whole process.


There are 505 merisms in the Old Testament. Many of these are in common spoken English. They include phrases like Heaven and Earth. For example, He moved Heaven and Earth to find the lost ring. Another common merism is Good and Evil

It is quite surprising how many times Merisms are using in speaking with another person. So many of these phrases have crept into the common tongue, amnd are used usually without people realising they have used a Merism.

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