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.
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 in my corner of the world the word froufrou is used 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 small or tiny children.
Etymologists are pretty sure humdrum is a varied reduplication of hum, the sound one might make upon experiencing tedium, which explains why humdrum 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 so so (or so-so), which 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.
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 their 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. Please 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.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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