September 6:  Reduplicative Day

On this date in 1916, Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tennessee.  The store pioneered several of the features that we take for granted when grocery shopping today, such as individually priced items, checkout stands, and shopping carts.

Piggly Wiggly logoIn addition to its unique in-store features, the store also had a unique name. The store’s founder, Clarence Saunders (1881-1953) never explained how he came upon the rhyme “Piggly Wiggly,” but there is little doubt that the unusual name contributed to making his store memorable (1).

Many words in English feature this supersonic, sing-song sound effect.  There are so many, in fact, that this class of words has its own name:  reduplicatives.  These words come in three basic varieties:  rhyming reduplicatives, like hocus-pocus, fuddy-duddy, and helter-skelter; vowel shift reduplicatives, like flip-flop, Ping-Pong, and zig zag; and repetitive reduplicatives (also know as tautonyms), like can-can, never-never, and yo-yo.

There are over two thousand reduplicatives in English.  Here is an alphabetically arranged list of examples:  

bye-bye, chitchat, dilly-dally, flim-flam, flip-flop, fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, higgledy-piggledy, hanky-panky, hokey-pokey, hob-nob, heebie-jeebiesy, hocus-pocus, hugger-mugger, hurly-burly, hodge-podge, hurdy-gurdy, hubbub, hullabaloo, harumscarum, hurry-scurry, hooley-dooley, Humpty Dumpty, mishmash, nitty-gritty, riffraff, seesaw, shilly-shally, so-so, super-duper, teeny-weeny, willy-nilly, wishy-washy

Today’s Challenge:  Words Heard by Word Nerds
What’s your favorite reduplicative?  Write an extended definition that provides the word’s meaning, examples of the how the word is used, and an explanation of how the word’s sound relates to its memorability and uniqueness. (Common Core Writing 1 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  “Flip-flop has sound symbolism:  we can hear in the fl- clusters the sound of flipping in one direction and flopping in another.  It is also visually suggestive, evoking the image of things that flip and flop, as a pair of sandals flip-flopping in sand on the beach.  But perhaps most importantly, the word is compelling because of its emphatic doubling of the syllable fl-.  This doubling of a syllable or word element to strengthen or emphasize meaning is called by linguists reduplication.”  -Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer



2- Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language. New York:  Random House, 2006:  282-290.


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