Speaking better English - Merisms
Updated: May 25, 2021
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.