Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reduplication III

Reduplication III


One of the alluring elements of any language is the music of it, & one of the ways we infuse a language with music is the repetition or near-repetition of sounds. Linguists call these childish-sounding gems reduplications. Here are a few:

Since 1741 those who move slowly have dilly-dallied

In 1940, a reduplication of the word super was born super-duper.

A reduplication of the word roll came to be in 1820 — roly-poly.

Since 1610 those who lie can be said to fib. Though fib isn’t a reduplication, it was born of the reduplication fibble-fable, a term of the 1500s meant to disparage the telling of fables.

Zigzag (or zig-zag) came to us in 1712. It’s likely this term grew from the German reduplication zickzack, a play on the word zacke, which meant tooth or prong.

Since the 1530s, when someone goes about doing something in a backward fashion, that person’s actions can be labeled arsy-versy, a reduplication of the somewhat titillating word, arse. Some Linguists suggest this term might also have been influenced by the word reverse.

And the reduplication ticky-tacky, brainchild of folksinger Malvina Reynolds, made its debut in 1962 to label the reiterating rows of tacky homes being built at the time. Listen to her song, “Little Boxes,” here.

First meaning feeble or poor in quality, & later meaning vacillating, the term wishy-washy has been with us since the 1690s.

And though this post was sparked by a conversation with good friend Anne Peterson about the term willy-nilly, the term in question is not a reduplication. It was born in the 1600s of the phrase will he, nill he, which meant with or without the will of the person in question. Willy-nilly doesn’t qualify as a reduplication because it’s not simply a near-repeated sound. Its roots clearly go back to two words that simply happen to rhyme. Proof that hardworking etymologists are exacting & don’t go about things willy-nilly.

If you're interested in more examples of reduplication, check out this post, or this one.

Please leave any comments on all this reduplication in the comment section.




Big thanks to this week’s sources: the OED, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & Collins Dictionary.

6 comments:

  1. Well, I decided not to shilly-shally here and say that I didn't know that Malvina Reynolds actually invented "ticky-tacky" in Little Boxes--such a great expression. I also didn't know about the expression arsey-versey. Might have to revive that one. :-)

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    1. Hi Anne -- I hadn't heard of "arsey-versy" either, though my father was fond of using arsy-versy's cousin, "bass-ackwards." Thanks for popping by & avoiding shilly-shalliness.

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  2. Well, what do you know, I have been doing things arsy-versy through out my life, not knowing that there was a clever word for my left handed weirdness. And my dad sang Little Boxes through out my childhood. I always loved it. Your post brought back a nice memory. Thanks for that!

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    1. Hey Christine -- Excellent! Just this week a neighbor's five year old sparked a magical memory for me. And as to arsy-versy -- I'm with you & I'm not even left-handed!

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  3. Okay, but what about those eternally heart-string strumming lyrics: "Lavendar blue, dilly-dilly"?

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    1. Steve - that is most decidedly a question for the ages (as Dorothy Parker might say, the ages between 2 & 5). Though the reduplication dilly-dally has been with us since 1741, it appears dilly-dilly was an invention of songwriter Burl Ives.

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