Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reduplicated Word Forms in English

Repetitive Compound Words
Have you ever come across peculiar repetitive compound words, chit-chat or hanky-panky? You might be. Why we prefer to use these repetitive compound words? May be for the musical rhyming sequences. These compound words are sounding different. The terms you are using are for the sake of rhyme, repetition, and rhythm, and not for grammar.
Three Types of English Compound Words

Lexicographers and language experts have recognized these word repetition or reduplication and sorted them out using its form. In Standard English you will find only three types of repetitive compound words: the simple 'Duplicative Type', 'Alliterative Type' - those with vowel gradation; and the 'Rhyming Type'. Most English grammars will attest to this fact of language. Repetition of words has become well-established, well-recognized and are well-accepted in spoken or written English.

For example consider the example hanky-panky but, there rhymes in this compound word. In the other example chit-chat, you find rhyming; however you notice the occurrence same consonants and different vowels. In some other word repetitions you may come across exact duplication of the initial word. Let me show you what I mean.

Duplicative Type - Repetitive Compound words: Rhythmic word formation. Consider following examples for its rhythm:

1) ack-ack - anti aircraft fire
2) aye-aye - yes (often used by seamen)
3) bang-bang - sound of a gun
4) beriberi - disease caused by vitamin B deficiency
5) bonbon - a sweet
6) boo-boo - a blunder
7) bye-bye – goodbye
8) cha-cha - Latin ballroom dance
9) choo-choo - train, or sound of the train
10) chop chop - quickly (from pidgin English)
11) froufrou - elaborate (usually of a dress)
12) goody goody - someone virtuous or smug
13) ha-ha - the sound of laughter
14) hush hush – confidential
15) muumuu - loose, bright Hawaiian dress
16) night-night – goodnight
17) no-no – forbidden
18) papa – father
19) pawpaw - papaya

Do you find any change between the two word components? No. You find that the initial word is simply duplicated. There is no rhyming, but repetition of identical constituents for the sake of rhythm.

Alliterative Type - Repetitive Compound words: Another peculiar word formation. Consider following examples for yet another peculiarity.

1) chit-chat - gossipy talk
2) clip clop - sound of a horse’s hooves
3) criss-cross - a pattern of lines that cross each other
4) dilly-dally - to loiter
5) ding-dong - the sound of a bell
6) flim-flam – foolishness
7) flip-flop - this has several meanings, including a backward somersault and a sandal with a piece between the toes
8) hip-hop - type of music
9) knick-knack – trinket
10) mish-mash - a confused mixture
11) ping pong - table tennis
12) pitter-patter - a light, tapping sound
13) riff-raff - rabble; people who are worthless
14) riprap - broken stones on water used to protect riverbanks
15) see-saw - a piece of wood with a central balance which allows it to move up and down
16) shilly-shally - to hesitate
17) tick tock - sound of a clock
18) tittle-tattle - chat, gossip
19) zigzag - sharp turns in alternating directions

Is there rhyming? Yes. You might have noticed that these compound words do not rhyme in the usual way. Have you noticed that the two components of these words have same consonants? Yes you agree. Then what makes the difference? Yes the vowels alone are replaced. So they are alliterative i.e. the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables.

Rhyming Type - Repetitive Compound words: This peculiar word formation is for the sake of rhyming. Consider following examples:
1) airy-fairy - unrealistic; light and delicate
2) argy-bargy - verbal dispute
3) artsy-fartsy - pretentiously artistic (also arty-farty)
4) boo hoo - crying sound
5) boogie-woogie - piano jazz style
6) bow-wow - the sound of a dog
7) easy-peasy - very easy
8) fuddy-duddy - conservative or dull person
9) hanky-panky - suspicious behavior
10) heebie-jeebies – nervousness
11) helter-skelter – haphazard
12) higgledy-piggledy – muddled
13) hocus-pocus - trickery; a magician’s incantation
14) hodge-podge - a confused mixture
15) hoity-toity – haughty
16) itsy-bitsy – tiny
17) jeepers creepers - exclamation of surprise
18) mumbo-jumbo - derogatory reference to a religious or spiritual ritualnamby-pamby - feeble, weak
19) nitty gritty - the facts
20) okey-dokey – OK
21) super-duper - very pleasing
22) willy-nilly - whether it’s wanted or not

You may notice that the initial word is repeated identically except for the first letter. Are you able to feel the rhyming? You may notice rhyming in poetry. You might have noticed, while first component of these words would occur at the end of the first line of poetry, the second component could complete in the next line.

Tautonym Type - Repetitive Compound words: Wikipedia reports yet another category of repetitive compound words. What is Tautonym? 'A tautonym is a binomial scientific name in which the name of the genus and that of the species (referred to as the specific epithet in the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and the specific name in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature) are identical.

Tautonymy (i.e., the usage of tautonyms) is permissible in zoological nomenclature but tautonyms are considered illegitimate under the current nomenclature rules for botanical nomenclature. You may refer the big list of tautonyms. Consider the examples:

1) Gorilla gorilla (Western Gorilla)
2) Hyaena hyaena (Striped Hyena)
3) Jiges Jiges (Black Rabbit)
4) Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox)


1) Bubo bubo (Eurasian Eagle Owl)
2) Grus grus (Common Crane)
3) Guira guira (Guira Cuckoo)
4) Luscinia luscinia (Thrush Nightingale)


1) Cerastes cerastes (desert horned viper)
2) Hypnale hypnale (hump-nosed viper)
3) Naja naja (Indian cobra)
4) Natrix natrix (grass snake)


1) Catla catla (catla)
2) Chaca chaca (frogmouth catfish)
3) Hippocampus hipocampus (European seahorse)
4) Pristis pristis (common sawfish)
Thomas M. Paikeday reports the availability of the published reference resources on this subject:

Two standard works on reduplicated words and syllables are:

1) Henry B. Wheatley, Dictionary of Reduplicated Words in the English Language (London, 1866) and
2) Nils Thun, Reduplicated Words in English (Uppsala, 1963).

Lists thousands of iterative words from Old English turtur (= turtle dove) through Middle English cuccu (= cuckoo) to Modern English. The Modern English words with identical reduplication as in tick-tick run into the hundreds, from agar-agar, aye-aye, and bah-bah to wow-wow, yak-yak, and zoo-zoo (dialect word for "wood pigeon"). Most of the list is drawn from the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (1884 - 1928), its 1933 Supplement, and Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1896 - 1905).

Paikeday also repots about the computer check of the 1989 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary shows over 10,000 iterative words, from Absalom, Absalom and Aye, aye to yo-yo and zero-zero.

Please Refer the Websites for further learning (including examples):


List of tautonyms Wikipedia
2) Reduplication Wikipedia
3) Thomas M. Paikeday

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