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.


  1. Thanks for ferreting out the origin of "frou-frou". It does sound like rustling silk. Hum-drum sounds like what it means, too. I wonder if "wee" wasn't a Gaelic word before it entered English. I think it's in old Scots ballads from before the 18th century. But I could be wrong.

  2. Ooh, I love these challenges!

    My friend threw a party to celebrate the opening of his shop for froufrou knickknacks, including a hip-hop boogie-woogie dance mashup. I guess he thought it was pretty chi-chi...I think we're using different meanings for chi-chi, because I did too. Anyway, I must be a pretty humdrum person, because I got tired of the jibber-jabber and the so-so dance moves, said bye-bye, and went home to my pee-wee.

    At least all she wants is to wave her pompoms till I give her a bonbon.

  3. Hey Anne & Rachel,
    Thanks for coming by. Anne, it looks like wee comes from an Old English word related to weigh & weight (waege) that may have gotten rolling in the 1300s. I suppose it may have oozed into English from Gaelic as so many things did. And Rachel, thanks for the guffaw -- nicely done.

  4. Ha! I don't think I could top Rachel's pee-wee story. Well done, far from hum-drum. I think I will include so-soish into my vernacular. It could describe so so many things.

  5. Hey Christine,
    We'll start the So-soish Promotion Committee. Our first public statement can be something like, "The furthest possible thing from so-soish is Christine Ahern's YA manuscript, Treegirls.

  6. Haha, entirely my pleasure!

    I thought of something today: how can contentment and contention sound so alike and mean such different things?

  7. Hey again Rachel6,
    Great question. I'll put it on my list -- this week's post actually tackles a similar question.