Fun with Words: Reduplication

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Credit to the Phrase Finder website for much of the information on this topic.

I love words, and one of the great joys of maintaining this blog is getting to learn about, think about, and write about them. I find particular (and perhaps unusual) joy in learning the names of various wordy phenomena. For example, I’ve written previously about feghoots, eggcorns, mondegreens, paraprosdokians, back formations, portmanteau, and scesis onomatons, to name a few. All of these are terms I’ve learned via blogging. Today we’ll add another fun wordy word: reduplication.

Like most of these concepts, you are probably already familiar with reduplication. You just don’t likely know that there is a name for it. Reduplication refers to words formed through repetition of sounds. Examples include okey-dokey, film-flam, and pitter-patter. English is replete with these playful coinages. Many are baby words: tum-tum, pee-pee, boo-boo. Some are recent slang terms: bling-bling, hip hop, cray-cray. Many are quite old: pell mell, hobnob, helter-skelter (16th century),  riff-raff (15th century) and willy-nilly (10th/11th century).

Phrase Finder identifies three types of reduplications: exact, rhyming, and ablaut.

Exact: Baby words are often exact reduplications, but there others in common parlance.

  • blah-blah
  • bling-bling
  • boo-boo
  • bye-bye
  • choo-choo
  • chop-chop
  • gaga
  • goody-goody
  • knock-knock
  • night-night
  • no-no
  • pee-pee
  • poo-poo
  • rah-rah
  • so-so
  • ta-ta
  • tom-tom
  • tum-tum
  • yada-yada
  • yum-yum

Rhyming: It is also considered reduplication when the second half of the word rhymes with the first. Product names are often formed this way.

  • abracadabra
  • bees-knees
  • boogie-woogie
  • boy-toy
  • chick-flick
  • clap-trap
  • double-trouble
  • eency-weency
  • even-steven
  • fender-bender
  • fuddy-duddy
  • fuzzy-wuzzy
  • handy-dandy
  • hanky-panky
  • harum-scarum
  • heebie-jeebies
  • helter-skelter
  • herky-jerky
  • higgledy-piggledy
  • hob-nob
  • hocus-pocus
  • hodge-podge
  • hoity-toity
  • hokey-pokey
  • holey-moley
  • hugger-mugger
  • hurly-burly
  • itsy-bitsy
  • jeepers-creepers
  • lovey-dovey
  • mumbo-jumbo
  • namby-pamby
  • nit-wit
  • nitty-gritty
  • okey-dokey
  • pell-mell
  • phoney-baloney
  • pow-wow
  • razzle-dazzle
  • ring-a-ling
  • super-duper
  • teeny-weeny
  • willy-nilly

Ablaut: Ablaut is a linguistics term for words that change form by shifting a vowel. This may be the most common way to form reduplications. Phrase Finder points out that most of these, for no known reason, begin with a short “i” sound.

  • bric-a-brac
  • chit-chat
  • clippity-cloppity
  • criss-cross
  • dilly-dally
  • ding-dong
  • fiddle-faddle
  • flim-flam
  • flip-flop
  • hee-haw
  • knick-knack
  • mishmash
  • ping-pong
  • pitter-patter
  • riff-raff
  • seesaw
  • shilly-shally
  • ship-shape
  • sing-song
  • tick-tock
  • tip-top
  • tittle-tattle
  • wishy-washy
  • zig-zag

There are lots of products with reduplicative names, too: Mellow Yellow, Slim Jim, Lite-Brite, Tic-Tacs, Nutter Butters, and Fruit Loops come to mind.

Words are fun, aren’t they? Wish I could dilly-dally a titbit longer, but I’ve got to say ta-ta.

*****

Can you think of some reduplicates I’ve left out? Leave the below along with your comments.

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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  40. Giorgio Coniglio
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    How about blogger-flogger, dingaling,hi-fi, hootchie-kootchie, hubbub, hurdy-gurdy, loosey goosey and razzmatazz?

    • Brian Wasko
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      Good ones! I’m not familiar with blogger-flogger though. Sounds painful.

  41. Giorgio Coniglio
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    Some of these owe a tip of the hat to pop culture. How about achy-breaky, artsy-fartsy, culture-vulture, dingaling, easy-peasy, hi-fi, hootchie-kootchie, hotspot, , hurdy-gurdy, loosey-goosey, ooey-gooey, pooper-scooper, razzmatazz, rinky-dink, snailmail, walkie-talkie, wi-fi and wingding? Ta-dah! The ablauts might include laptop and flotsam-jetsam.

  42. Jan
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    Great book for the Elementary School crowd that uses all three forms of reduplication is “Double Trouble in Walla Walla” by Andrew Clements.
    Always a hit at story time !

    Jan
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  43. Elaine Togeretz
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    The day I read your blog, I was out driving and saw this licence plate:

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  44. Brian Wasko
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    Happy to see you taking this idea snd runnimg with it, Elaine.:)

  45. Elaine Togeretz
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    I just thought of honkey-tonk too. I think I had better stop thinking about this or I’ll never get anything else done today.

  46. Elaine Togeretz
    Elaine Togeretz05-22-2013

    How about: Oh, no; funny money; wham-bam; lazy-daisy; “looney-tunes”; flap-jack sort of works; swish-swash; lickety-split?

    We often do this with our kid’s names: Olivia-Bolivia; Nolan-B’dolan; Lawrence becomes Lawrency-Borrency.

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