Whoo-hoo! Linguistic Reduplication! Whoo-hoo! Linguistic Reduplication!
Culture

Whoo-hoo! Linguistic Reduplication!

by Mark Peters

January 12, 2009

The higgledy-piggledy world of repetitious words

As a licensed language columnist, I have several official duties: myth-dispelling, dictionary-collecting, word-celebrating, and trend-noticing are a few.But my favorite job is introducing civilians to the names of the linguistic concepts they encounter every day-like nonce words, eggcorns, and snowclones.Here's another. If you've ever said nyah-nyah on a teeter-totter while waving a pom-pom, then you already have firsthand knowledge of one of the most neato of all the ways words are made: reduplication. That's the technical term for the sound-repeating process that creates words like mumbo-jumbo, heebie-jeebies, night-night, and brouhaha.Some reduplicative words rhyme, like whoo-hoo, fuddy-duddy, killer-diller, and piggy-wiggy. Others switch vowels instead of consonants, like tick-tock, hip-hop, pitter-patter, and flim-flam. In some cases, the whole word is repeated, as in rah-rah, bye-bye, night-night, and doo-doo. Though words of this type are used by people of all ages, they contain an unmistakable whiff of childhood, which is why I seldom refer to my frequent groin injuries as boo-boos of the no-no region.If you're thinking "boo-boo, schmoo-boo", I should hire you as assistant vice-columnist, because that's a perfect segue to depreciative (or schmreduplication. Just as schmuck, schmo, schlub, schmendrick, and schlemiel appear on very few successful resumes, the addition of the schm sound is an all-powerful diminisher. Anyone with Google and a dream can find examples like almond, schmalmond; Shakespeare, Schmakespeare and velvet, schmelvet.Then there's contrastive reduplication, which you may know if you've ever been in a relationship that wasn't a relationship-relationship. Van-van, bank-bank, and coffee-coffee have been used to distinguish typical vans, banks, and java from mini-vans, ATM machines, and sex. Dead-dead means life-has-ended-dead, not undead or brain-dead, while date-date is often used to distinguish a real, romantic date from just a social meeting. I thought I was original when I said that a friend of a friend had moved beyond passive-aggressive to aggressive-aggressive, but the same coinage appeared in Felicity, I Heart Huckabees, and a recent Judy McGuire column. Enough examples to please a reduplication-holic and choke a horse can be found here.But if that's not enough, here's a lucky seven obscure-yet-fun-as-hell reduplicative words I hope you'll sprinkle into your Facebook updates and arrest warrants as needed:kickie-wickieDefined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "A jocular or ludicrous term for a wife," this silly-sounding word has a pedigree: Shakespeare used it in All's Well That Ends Well. It appeared in one of the folios as kicksie-wicksie, which is even more cutesy-wutesy.nookie bookieThis is not a trained professional who accepts wagers on the odds of nookie. According to the Historical Dictionary of American Slang (HDAS), a nookie bookie is a pimp.prinkum-prankumThough I haven't seen this word turn up on many blogs or billboards, it actually has three separate meanings, spanning the 1500s all the way up to the 1980s. The first meaning, which was rare even then, meant a prank, and the second was a cushion-dance-which sounds like a euphemism a covert nookie-bookie might use-but is actually a real dance the OED defines as "A round dance, formerly danced at weddings, in which the women and men alternately knelt on a cushion to be kissed." Finally, prinkum-prankum means "Fine attire; fine clothes and adornments"-in other words, stuff that is hoity-toity.ooglie-boogliesThis word, coined on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, was well-defined by the slayer's little sister Dawn: "So what have we got? What kind of ooglie-booglies? Lizardy types, or zombies, or vampires, or what?"ibby-jibbiesOoglie-booglies tend to give all but the hardiest of citizens the ibby-jibbies-a variation of heebie-jeebies Grant Barrett recorded in his indispensible Double-tongued Dictionary.hunkum-bunkumThough bunkum is a form of bunk, hunkum-bunkum seems to be closer to hunky-dory: it means everything is okey-dokey. A 1913 citation from the HDAS shows it in use: "What hunkum-bunkum bread you have to-day!"frabbajabbaAnother HDAS word (used in West Side Story) that Mr. T would likely enjoy: it means jibber-jabber, and I hope to someday tell someone "Don't give me any of that frabbajabba, kind sir!"
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Whoo-hoo! Linguistic Reduplication!