Thursday, September 26, 2013

Reduplication Redux

Reduplication Redux

The term reduplication fascinates me. Wouldn’t the term duplication do the job? I love the fact that a redundant-sounding word is used to signify redundancy. According to Merriam Webster, reduplication is an act or instance of doubling or reiterating. Last week’s post covered a few reduplications & this week’s post will cover a few more.

Last week, Rachel6 of Sesquipedalian Dreamer wondered about the word froufrou (or frou-frou). Though etymologists aren’t certain, it’s likely that frou-frou is a reduplication of the rustling sound of a dress. It came to English in 1870 from French. Froufrou’s meaning today is fussy details, though Rachel6’s mother & many folks I know use the word froufrou to refer to knick-knacks or frilly decorations.

Which brings us to knick-knack, a varied reduplication of knack, as in, “he’s got a knack for machines.” Knick-knack’s primary meaning is a pretty trick or subterfuge, which came to English in 1618. By 1682, knick-knack had picked up the secondary meaning, a curious or pleasing trifle more ornamental than useful.

A related reduplication is the term chichi or chi-chi, which arrived from France in 1908, carrying two meanings: sophisticated,  & pretentious fussiness.

Bye-bye is also a reduplication. It started in 1630 as a sound used to lull a child to sleep. By 1709 its similarity to good-bye rubbed off on its meaning.

Jibber-jabber is a varied reduplication of jabber, & showed up in 1728 meaning to talk gibberish.

Pee-wee is most likely a varied reduplication of wee, meaning little. It came to English in 1848 to describe a small marble, & by 1877 became a bit more generalized, meaning for children, small, or tiny.

Etymologists are pretty sure humdrum is a varied reduplication of hum, the sound one might make upon experience tedium, which explains why it means tedious or monotonous. Humdrum entered the language in the 1550s.

Hip hop is a varied reduplication most of us might guess came to English recently. Surprisingly, Hip hop was in use to mean a successive hopping motion as early as the 1670s. To denote the popular music style, hip hop was first used in 1982.

Boogie-woogie is another music-related varied reduplication. Its earliest ancestor appears to have shown up in 1912 as boogie-boo. By 1917 a rent party was referred to as a boogie, & by 1928 that blues style & the term to describe it, boogie-woogie was born.

To finish up our look at reduplication, we’ll consider Christine of View from an Independent Bookstore’s suggestion. So so (or so-so) came to English in 1520, meaning in an indifferent, mediocre, or passable manner or degree. And to make so-so even more so, in 1835 someone unveiled so-soish (I kid you not), meaning somewhat so-so, or rather indifferent. Apparently, so-so wasn’t indecisive enough as it stood, so it needed an indecisive ending.

In this week’s comments, I’d love to see sentences including as many of the bold words above as possible.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, Merriam Webster, & Etymonline.

Thursday, September 19, 2013



Years ago when I lived on the island of Tutuila in American Samoa, I was fascinated by the culture’s take on many European traditions. One of those was the tradition of the use of Junior. In Samoa, Junior was applied to boys whose first name mirrored his family name. The full name of the first Junior I met was Eliapo Eliapo, Jr. I met a Tasi Tasi, Jr., a Malie Malie Jr., and many others.

In honor of that translation of one culture’s tradition into another’s, this week’s words all feature what etymologists call a reduplication, or words that masquerade as reduplications.

Bonbon showed up in English in 1796 from the French word bonbon – a reduplication of bon, or good. And doesn’t a bonbon deserve the moniker goodgood?

In 1954 boo-boo came to English. Its parent word, boob, entered English twenty years earlier, meaning foolish mistake. Boo-boo is a reduplication of boob.

Pompom entered English in 1748, meaning ornamental round tuft. It was originally pompon (1725) & appears to have come from the French word pompe, meaning pomp. It doesn’t appear to be a true reduplication, but it sure looks like one. Many arguments exist for why an ornamental round tuft might display pomp, but nobody knows for sure.

Beriberi came to English in 1725. It defined a paralytic disease prevalent in India. It came from Sinhalese, in which beri meant weakness, but the degree of weakness brought on by the disease was greater than your average weakness, thus beriberi.

The word for the frilly skirt worn in ballet came to us in 1910 from French. Tutu was originally cucu, a reduplication of a part of the body the tutu is intended to cover. A somewhat refined literal translation of tutu is derriere-derriere.

Another reduplication is the word pooh-pooh, which showed up in English in 1827, built on the word pooh, which (like its reduplication) meant to dismiss lightly & contemptuously. Pooh was one of many words first put on paper by William Shakespeare. The bard’s first pooh was uttered by Ophelia in Hamlet.

Reduplication (or faux reduplication, as in pompom above) is responsible for many more words. Rack your brains for some possibilities, & enter them in the comments section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Etymosheeple Round 2

Etymosheeple Round 2

What’s Etymosheeple, you ask? It’s explained here.

In our last exciting round of Etymosheeple, we ended on the word adolescent. In the comments section, Rachel6 of Sesquipedalian Dreamer noted that she’s always associated the words adolescent & nascent, so nascent will be our next stop this round (thanks, Rachel6).

Nascent arrived in English in 1620 from the Latin word nascentum, meaning immature, arising, or young. Nascentum comes from the Latin word nasci, or to be born.

What other words also come from nasci? A quick search reveals a smoking heap of them.

Obvious ones associated with birth include:

natal (late 1300s)

neonatal (1883)

Renaissance (1840s – I would’ve guessed earlier)

Not-so-obvious ones include:

cognate, meaning of common descent. Though the words springing from nasci in this list are broadly related cognates, cognates are typically more closely related (like the French nuit, German nacht & English night).

nee, as in Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Onassis)

innate, as in innate talents

Noel, as in Christmas

native, nation & nature

And my favorite of the bunch, puny, which entered English in the 1570s, meaning inferior in rank, from the Middle French word, puisné, which came from Latin that I’ll simplify as post-nasci, meaning after being born.

Thinking Etymosheepishly, the word puny leads me to wonder about other words meaning small (teeny, tiny, teensy), & whether they owe their –y endings to nasci, (as puny does) or to the more traditional diminutive –y ending we find in puppy or baby.

And the answer is….maybe. It turns out both teensy (1899) & teeny (1825) are alternative forms of tiny (1400), which appears to have come from the word tine, (as in the tines of a fork), and may have been formed by adding the diminutive-making –y to the word tine, but nobody knows for sure.

Thanks for joining me for this particularly directionless round of Etymosheeple.

This week in the comments section, I’d love to see words with unlikely spellings. Mention one, mention two, mention a dozen…

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Etymosheeple Round 1

Etymosheeple Round 1

The Urban Dictionary defines sheeple as people who follow trends mindlessly. Though I tend to fall into the odd duck category when it comes to most trends, I admit to finding one etymology and mindlessly letting it lead me to the next and to the next. Instead of trends, I mindlessly follow word histories. I refer to this practice as etymosheepling. Here’s an example:

I randomly land on the word genuine, meaning natural or not acquired. It arrived in English in the 1590s, its Latin root being gignere, meaning beget. Genuine’s etymological notes suggest that its form (ending in –ine) may have been influenced through contrast to adulterinus, which meant spurious or false.

Adulterinus?  It must be associated with adultery, but is it associated with adult? This leads my mindless mind to look up adultery & adult.

Adultery is related to adulterate, both words coming from the Latin word adulterare, to corrupt. Adult – on the other hand – came from the Latin adultus, meaning grown up, mature, adult or ripe. Adult came into English in the 1530s. The etymological notes under adult explain – and I can’t believe I never imagined the connection – that adultus is the past participle of adolescere, to grow up, mature, or be nourished. This means that the root words for adolescent & adult reflect the same sort of growth reflected by in-the-flesh adolescents as they change to adults.

That would lead me to…WAIT!
I could go all night. I love this stuff.

A good game of Etymosheeple can be endless. With that in mind, we’ll call this round one, with plans of continuing next week.

Please join in the game, suggest in the comments section a thread we might follow from the final etymology or definition above.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the OED, Wordnik, The Urban Dictionary, & Etymonline.