- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- The English Language
Take a Word.... TWO: Etymology, History, Idioms & a Poem
Etymology of 'two'
Old English twā (feminine and neuter) of Germanic origin; related to Dutch twee and German zwei, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin and Greek duo.
also, though similar:
Old English twa ‘two’ fem. and neuter from of twegen ‘two’ from Proto-Germanic twa (cognates: Old Saxon and Old Frisian twene, twa, Old Norse tveir, tvau, Dutch twee, Old High German zwene, zwo, German zwei, Gothic twai), from PIE duwo, variant of dwo ‘two’ (cognates: Sanskrit…Greek….Latin… Old Welsh…. Lithuanian… Old Church Slavonic…, first element in Hittite ta-ugash ‘two years old’).
plural noun: twos
- cardinal number
- equivalent to the sum of one and one; one less than three
- a group or unit of two people or things (i.e. two years old - 'he is two'; 'two years ago')
- two o’clock "the pub closed at two"
- a size of garment or other merchandise denoted by two
- a playing card or domino with two pips
Not Just a NumberClick thumbnail to view full-size
This word ‘two’; where does that lead you? I find that when I think of a word it takes over, leading me down unexpected paths, veering off at a tangent, sometimes taking me by the scruff of the neck and forcing me to places unknown.
I was led off to thinking about ‘twain’, the archaic version of ‘two’. It took me to Mark Twain (was he a twin? yes! how thrilling! (thanks Jodah), the sixth of seven children!) and to ‘never the twain shall meet’. My lateral thinking then turned right, to find ‘couple’, ‘twin’ (’Is that from twain?’ I asked myself. No, it’s not.), ‘love-seat’, ‘pair(s)’, ‘double’, ‘tandem’…. I’m sure your brain has thrown you a few more.
That got me side-tracked into the origins and background information connected with these ‘extras’, some of which are mentioned, some left for more hubs. See where words can take you? If you’re plagued by writers’ block, just stick a pin in the dictionary and off you go gambolling down another path of your imagination before you know it!
Using idioms in text
It's fun to use idioms or even to make up your own. Although keeping the flow isn't easy when you have to stick to given phrases, you can chop and change, experiment with different rhymes and if you're lucky something acceptable will write itself.
The reason I chose 'two' for this edition of my series was via John Hansen (Jodah) who wrote a hub referring to number six. I mentioned in the comments that my favourite number was 2 and he said he'd be interested to find out why. So....
The following is a poem showing some idioms I knew and a few I found. I enjoyed concocting this, using the story of a couple who loved to dance but had an 'unwelcome' neighbour.
It Takes Two
Well there they were, two of a kind,
like two peas in a pod.
Though they were short of a bob* or two,
they weren’t really that odd.
They’d saved a bit and bought a house,
set in a two-way street.
It didn’t take long before they could
stand on their own two feet.
They liked to dance and we all know
that it takes two to tango.
Then there’s that song, yes, ‘It takes Two’,
by whom? I think you know.
There was a neighbour, blonde bombshell,
who thought he’d be a two-timer,
but she was wrong, ‘cause he was strong,
knew a thing or two about her.
She was two-faced and, truth to tell,
as thick as two short planks,
put two and two together then
come up with five! No thanks!
She didn’t realise that no man can
safely serve two masters,
thought that she could turn his head,
pin him to the rafters!
She had to accept that he was true
to his wife, but then pretended
that she didn’t give two hoots for him
and there, he thought, it ended.
Two can Play at that Game!
... but It Didn't!
When back at dancing, partners changed,
one bloke had two left feet.
Wife tried to dance the two-step
with this guy, then took a seat,
only to find that husband danced
with bombshell from next door.
Was he really two-timing her?
He’d feel a two-by-four.
It’s true that there are two sides
to every story told
and two could play at that game,
let’s see how it’ll unfold.
There were no two ways about it,
the neighbour had to face
being brought down a peg or two,
facing a disgrace.
What would she do?
So wife decided that she would
kill two birds with one stone
and left them both together saying
‘Two hours, then I’ll be home.’
Husband was stuck, was in two minds
about how to get blonde out.
He didn’t want to cheat on his wife,
two wrongs don’t make a right.
In two shakes of a lamb’s tail
he’d plied her with strong drink.
Eyes like two burnt holes in the snow,
she couldn’t even think.
He was in two minds where to put her,
couldn’t do her harm.
He guided her straight to a chair,
just dragged her by the arm.
In the end he decided that
the lesser of two evils
was to lock her in the coal-shed
though it made him feel a weasel.
In Two Minds or The Lesser of Two Evils??
Happy ever after
The upshot of it all was that
these two, husband and wife,
were expecting a little addition to
their warm and cosy life.
She was now eating for two,
they were no more on edge.
Each evening both sat down to eat
their usual meat and two veg.
Though like a dog with two tails,
he was a little bothered
because, just as they say, it’s true
two’s company, three’s a crowd.
But, true to form, it wasn’t long
before all three were happy.
Though, one step forward, two steps back,
he hated changing nappies!
To dancing they returned once more,
the tango was in fashion.
The two of them were ballroom stars,
but little son their passion.
*bob - old British word for a shilling (now 10p but worth much less!)
A Few More
a game of two halves - referring originally to football, now meaning that circumstances have changed suddenly.
a game that two can play - someone can get their own back
two sides of the same coin - similar in content and/or value, but difficult to choose from
hasn’t got two half-pennies to rub together - is poor
can’t be in two places at the same time - shouldn’t try to do too much
put up two fingers (gave him the two fingers) - a rude gesture!
it’s a two-bit show - not a good one, not entertaining, cheap
fall between two stools - can’t make up your mind
lesser of two evils - have to decide from a choice of two, neither of which is good.
Just in case you didn’t know: ‘It Takes Two’, the song, was a hit for Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston.
‘Two peas in a pod’ - either looking alike or having the same interests.
‘Two-fisted’ is from 1774 (American English); aggressive, hard-hitting, or literally using or held by both hands. British English tends to use ‘two-handed’, as in ‘two-handed backhand’ in tennis.
‘Two cheers for….’, expressing qualified enthusiasm, was first recorded in 1951 in EM Forster’s title “Two Cheers for Democracy.” These days we do ‘three’ cheers, so we’re obviously more inclined to generosity.
‘Two-dimensional’ is recorded from 1883; the figurative sense of ‘lacking substance or depth’ is attested from 1934.
A 'two-by-four' is a piece of wood 2" by 4", a standard British measurement.
‘twain’ - the archaic version of 'two', used in the phrase 'never the twain shall meet', meaning they'll never agree because they don't wish to, or they'll agree to differ, or they'll never physically meet due to impossibility.
‘tuppence’, ‘two-penny bit’ (tuppenny bit): I don’t give tuppence for him! In other words he's not worth anything. The reference is to ‘two pennies’, for which the British still have a coin.
Used in a Song: 'Tea for Two'
'Tea for two and two for tea,
Me for you and you for me alone,
We could raise a family,
a boy for you, a girl for me,
Can’t you see how happy we could be?'
‘Tea for Two’ is a song from the 1925 musical ‘No, No, Nanette’. It’s a duet sung by Nanette and Tom in Act II as they imagine their future.
Tea for Two
Why is Two my Favourite Number?
- I was born on the 2nd of May
- Number 2 Fairfield Crescent was the number of the house I lived in for most of my childhood in Sussex
- Number 2 was my favourite house I bought as an adult, which I called ‘Fairfield’ after the other one, because it was in the country and was also a bungalow (meaning, in British English, the building only has the ground floor and possibly a loft)
- One of my granddaughters also has her birthday on the 2nd, though not in the same month
- ’The two of us’ has a nice ring to it; it’s loving, friendly and cosy.
Two has been a lucky number for me; it used to be one of my lottery numbers (now I have random dips once in a while) and is the number I use if I’m tempted to gamble once in a while! I always wanted to go to a horse race and when I eventually went to Ascot (in Perth, Western Australia) I won a small amount using number 2.
Two is a neat number. There are lots of things for two people:
- two-seater sofas,
- a love-seat or sweetheart seat,
- table for two,
- meals for two
Things come in, or are thought of as in, pairs:
- salt & pepper,
- brother & sister,
- pen & pencil,
- mustard & cress,
- flora & fauna
Then there are opposites, by definition ‘two’ things, such as:
- black & white;
- right & wrong;
- on & off.
You get the idea.
2 is a swan when I’m teaching children how to write numbers with the correct orientation (start with the head, go right, round, down and across).
To me, 2 is pretty, 2 looks like an ear (top) or a nose (bottom).
Put two 2s together, one reversed, and you have a heart ♡
Use it, Experiment, Play & Enjoy!
What rhymes with 'two'? It's a great word for poetry because it offers many choices.
to, too, loo (toilet!), moo, zoo, through, flew, knew, grew, blew, crew, shoe, accrue.....
As with any word, you can have fun using it in many contexts. I hope this has given you a few ideas and that you'll enjoy experimenting with your writing, be it poetry or prose.
Do you have a birthday on the 2nd of a month?
What is your lucky/favourite number?
© 2015 Ann Carr