Reduplicative Words

Vivian Cook

Some words in English simply repeat themselves: the second part is identical with the first, pooh-pooh, or repeats the first part with a change of vowel, riff-raff, or of consonant, teeny-weeny. These are called reduplicative words. Here are some everyday English examples.

ORDINARY EXAMPLES

Repeating without change

bye-bye

hush-hush

haha

blah blah

girly girly

gaga

Repeating with change of vowel

flip-flop

mish-mash

nick-nack

pitter-patter

sing-song

see-saw

ping-pong

 

Repeating with change of consonant

hurdy-gurdy

mumbo-jumbo

walky-talky

hanky-panky

hotchpotch

higgledy-piggledy

hocus-pocus

criss-cross

argy-bargy

 


A particularly rich source of such words is baby-talk, the name for the kind of language parents speak to children everywhere in the world. One reason is that children’s early babbling often repeats the same syllable over and over, gagagaga, and so parents may think they are making it easier for the child if they imitate the baby’s sounds – See the pretty bow-wow!

Babytalk

tum-tum

bow-wow

night-night

gee-gee

boo-hoo

wee-wee

neigh-neigh

moo-moo

baabaa

choo-choo

Characters in the Night Garden (children’s TV show)

Igglepiggle

The Haa Hoos

Makka Pakka

Ninky Nonk

Many attractive reduplicative words have died out or survive only in dialects. Here is a selection if you want to bring them back to life.

Obscure words

geepie-gawpie

a shadow picture (Orkney)

kitch-witch

a woman dressed in a frightening way (East Anglia) (the name of a shop in Colchester in the 2000s)

mal-scral

a caterpillar (Devon)

holums-jolums

all at once (Warwick)

whisky-frisky

drunk on whisky (American)

borus-snorus

happy go lucky (Dorset)

joukerie-cookerie

trickery (Scottish)

hangy-bangy

a good-for-nothing (Northumberland)

hitherum-ditherum

a drying wind (Scottish)

rumpum-scrumpum

an instrument like a banjo (Wiltshire)

infixes   blends   compounds Words index 

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