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TWTS: Betwixt and between on redundancy? It's not always useless and futile

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Expressions like “house and home” and “betwixt and between” are clearly redundant. Don’t cancel them quite yet though -- redundancy isn’t a deal breaker.

A listener recently asked us about whether the redundancy in “they’re eating us out of house and home” serves a purpose.

This expression can refer to using up resources in a metaphorical sense. It can also mean that someone is literally eating all of your food, a scenario that’s likely familiar to parents of adolescent children.

The phrase “house and home” goes back to Old English and may go back even further into older forms of Germanic. It may be redundant, but redundancy is often a tool for emphasis, as is alliteration.

“Betwixt and between” is another alliterative, redundant expression often used for emphasis. It refers to an intermediate or middle position, i.e. not on one side or the other.

For example, if two groups are trying to get your affiliation, but you’re not sure where you stand, you could say you’re “betwixt and between.”

Of course, you could just say “between” and ditch “betwixt.” However, people who like to use this phrase may argue that redundancy helps to better capture the undecided position in which you find yourself.

Both “between” and “betwixt” go back to Old English. They’re both formed through the combination of the prefix “be” and different forms of the word that would later become “two” in modern English.

Some commentators claim that “betwixt and between” is clichéd or overused. However, usage data shows that it’s not used very often.
As the editor of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes, “It’s hard to call [betwixt and between] clichéd, because it’s not common enough to be clichéd.”

Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.