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Prose Parade
Grammar and writing basics

A Poser

A friend posed this to me, and I think someone posed it to her, and none of us knows the answer. So here goes…

In English we have a habit of saying some words twice, maybe for emphasis, maybe not. For instance, “there, there,” when consoling someone. The Brits say, “Here, here,” when they applaud something. “No-no,” which is baby talk, has made it into the dictionary as a grown-up (or sort of) word that means a misstep or mistake or something forbidden. “Now, now” we use instead of telling people to settle down.

OK, there are the examples. Is there a word that describes these doubles? I’ve looked in the dictionary, my grammar books and my prosody books, and nothing. (And, yes, I have multiple grammar books and prosody books [having to do with prose].) I even looked in my Thrall and Hibbard (a handbook of literature). Nothing, nothing, nothing. Oh, there are three; I must feel very emphatic.

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June 14, 2009 um 4:40 pm
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  1. Nick Hobson

    An interesting question! I didn’t know the answer, but I found this page — http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ret1.htm — on Michael Quinion’s excellent site, which says, “These repeated terms are sometimes called doubles or clones, or, if you want to be really academic about it, reduplicatives.”

    This page — http://www.dailywritingtips.com/reduplicatives-and-their-meanings/ — distinguishes between “repeating reduplicatives” (such as those you mention), “rhyming reduplicatives” (such as “mumbo jumbo”), and “vowel change reduplicatives” (such as “tick tock”). I don’t have my dictionaries at hand to check, but Online Merriam-Webster seems to support this usage; i.e., that “reduplicative” on its own does not necessarily imply repetition.

    By the way, the Brits say, “Hear, hear,” when they applaud something.

    #1 Comment vom 16. June 2009 um 10:15 am

  2. admin

    Yes, Nick, I think this may be as close as we’re bound to get. I love the word retronym, very musical. However, reduplicative or clone or double is probably closer to the description although the word reduplicative reverberates in the brain until I have a headache.

    Nevertheless, even though a reduplicative requires heavier stress on the first word and my examples don’t have that, reduplicative it is. Actually, in my examples the words are said in different tones, starting on a higher note. There (higher note), there (lower note).

    Still, it’s an interesting little hiccup in our language, isn’t it?

    #2 Comment vom 18. June 2009 um 2:47 pm

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