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What does reduplication mean?

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Reduplicated Phrases

What is reduplication?

A list of reduplicated phrasesReduplication in language is the joining of two words to make a short, usually hyphenated, phrase. This is done for emphasis - for example, 'teensy' means tiny, but 'teensy-weensy' sounds tinier still.

Reduplication might be rhyming, as in zhick-flick, or ablaut (that is, using vowel substitution), as in the alliterative zig-zag. There are also exact reduplications, where a term is formed by repeating a single word, for example housey-housey,

The typical way that a reduplicated two-word pair is formed is by this recipe:

Take an existing word with a known meaning, or a variant of it.

Either, add a rhyming or alliterative word, or repeat the first word.

The added word usually goes after the first, although there are a few reduplicants where the added word goes before - for example knick-knack.

The coinage of reduplcated phrases is often done just for fun and the undoubted pleasure to be had from playing with words..

There are numerous alliterative and rhyming idioms and these are a significant feature of the language. These aren't restricted to poets and Cockneys; everyone uses them. We start in the nursery with choo-choos, move on in adult life to hanky-panky and end up in the nursing home having a sing-song.

Sometimes the second word has little meaning in itself and is never seen out alone, only existing as part of a reduplicate pair - for example namby-pamby.

New coinages often appear at times of national confidence, when an outgoing and playful nature is expressed in language. A good example of this came about in the 1920s, following the First World War, when many nonsense word pairs were coined - the bee's knees, heebie-jeebies etc.

The introduction of such terms began with Old English and continues today. Willy-nilly is over a thousand years old. Recently we have boob-tube and hip-hop.

Here are some examples, there are many more:

Rhyming:

Many of these rhyming reduplications start with the letter H. Why? I don't know.

Boogie-woogie

Chick-flick

Chock-a-block

Easy-peasy

Fuddy-duddy

Fuzzy-wuzzy

Hanky-panky

Happy-clappy

Harum-scarum

Heebie-jeebies

Helter-skelter

Higgledy-piggledy

Hob-nob

Hocus-pocus

Hodge-podge

Hoity-toity

Hokey Cokey

Hokey-pokey

Hoochie-coochie

Hubble-bubble

Hugger-mugger

Hurly-burly

Itty-bitty

Jeepers-creepers

Jiggery-pokery

Lardy-dardy

Lovey-dovey

Mumbo-jumbo

Namby-pamby

Nitty-gritty

Okey-dokey

Oompa Loompa

Pell-mell

Raggle-taggle

Razzle-dazzle

Roly-poly

Rootin' tootin'

Rumpy-pumpy

Super-duper

Teensy-weensy

Topsy-turvy

Walkie-talkie

Willy-nilly

Ablaut:

A list of reduplicated phrasesThese are phrases suggestive of a toing and froing motion, that is, indicating a thing which is this and then that; for example, ding-dong, see-saw, tick-tock, zig-zag.

Almost all of these use the vowel 'i' in the first part of the reduplication and either 'a' or 'o' in the second part. Again, I don't know why.

Bada-bing

Bish-bosh

Chit-chat

Criss-cross

Crinkum-crankum

Dilly-dally

Ding-dong

Fiddle-faddle

Flim-flam

Knick-knack

Mish-mash

Ping-pong

Pitter-patter

Riff-raff

See-saw

Shilly-shally

Sing-song

Tick-tock

Tip-top

Tittle-tattle

Wishy-washy,

Zig-zag

Exact:

These are simple expressions formed by repeating a word. These repeated word reduplications are often used as baby talk - gee-gee, choo-choo etc.:

Ack-ack

Aye-aye

Bye-bye

Chin-chin

Choo-choo

Chop-chop

Ga-ga

Gee-gee

Goody-goody

Housey-housey

Knock-knock

Night-night

Piggy-wiggy

Yada-yada

Yum-yum

Triple Ablaut

The extension of reduplications is rare and seems to be done just for the fun of it. They are all of the form 'i', 'a', 'o', probably just because they sound better that way - for example, tac-toe-tic just doesn't seem to work.

Tic-tac-toe

Bing-bang-boom

Bish-bash-bosh

Ning-nang-nong

Splish-splash-splosh

I've not yet recorded a 21st century reduplication. 'Bieber Fever' and 'stitch 'n bitch' are certainly 21st century, but aren't quite reduplications.

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