ТОП 10:



In what follows we shall describe some combinations that may be called compounds by right of pattern, as they very markedly consist of two parts, but otherwise in most cases fail to satisfy our definition of a compound word. Some of them contain only one free form, the other constituents being a variation of this, while there are also cases where both constituents are jocular pseudo-morphemes, meaningless and fanciful sound clusters which never occur elsewhere. Their motivation is mostly based upon sound-symbolism and it is their phonetic make-up that plays the most important role in their functioning They are all stylistically coloured (either colloquial, slang or nursery words) and markedly expressive and emotional: the emotion is not expressed in the constituents but suggested by the whole pattern (reduplication rhyme).

The group consists of reduplicative compounds that fall into three main subgroups: reduplicative compounds proper, ablaut combinations and rhyme combinations.

Reduplicative compounds proper are not restricted to the repetition of onomatopoeic stems with intensifying effect, as it is sometimes suggested. Actually it is a very mixed group containing usual free forms, onomatopoeic stems and pseudo-morphemes. Onomatopoeic repetition exists but it is not very extensive: hush-hush ‘secret’, murmur (a borrowing from French) pooh-pooh (to express contempt). In blah-blah ‘nonsense’, ‘idle talk’ the constituents are pseudo-morphemes which do not occur elsewhere. The usage may be illustrated by the following example: Should he give them half a minute of blah-blah or tell them what had been passing through his mind? (Priestley) Nursery words such as quack-quack ‘duck’, Pops-Pops ‘father’ and many other words belong to the same type.

Non-imitative words may be also used in reduplication and possess then an ironical ring: pretty-pretty ‘affectedly pretty’, goody-goody ‘sentimentally and affectedly good’. The instances are not numerous and occur only in colloquial speech. An interesting example is the expressive and ironical never-never, an ellipsis of the phrase never-never system ‘a hire-purchase system in which the consumer may never be able to become the owner of the thing purchased’. The situation may be clear from the following: “They’ve got a smashing telly, a fridge and another set of bedroom furniture in silver-grey.” “All on the never-never, what’ll happen if he loses his job?” (Lindsay)


The reduplicative compounds resemble in sound form the rhyme combinations like razzle-dazzle and ablaut combinations like sing-song. These two types, therefore, are treated by many1 as repetition with change of initial consonant or with vowel interchange. H. Marchand treats these as pseudo-compounds, which occur as twin forms with phonic variation and as twin forms with a rhyme for characteristic feature.

Ablaut combinations are twin forms consisting of one basic morpheme (usually the second), sometimes a pseudo-morpheme which is repeated in the other constituent with a different vowel. The typical changes are [ı]— [æ]: chit-chat ‘gossip’ (from chat ‘easy familiar talk’), dilly-dally ‘loiter’, knick-knack ‘small articles of ornament’, riff-raff ‘the mob’, shilly-shally ‘hesitate’, zigzag (borrowed from French), and [ı] — [o]: ding-dong (said of the sound of a bell), ping-pong ‘table-tennis’, singsong ‘monotonous voice’, tiptop ‘first-rate’. The free forms corresponding to the basic morphemes are as a rule expressive words denoting sound or movement.

Both groups are based on sound symbolism expressing polarity. With words denoting movement these words symbolise to and fro rhythm: criss-cross; the to and fro movement also suggests hesitation: shilly-shally (probably based on the question “Shall I?"); alternating noises: pitter-patter. The semantically predominant group are the words meaning idle talk: bibble-babble, chit-chat, clitter-clatter, etc.


Rhyme combinations are twin forms consisting of two elements (most often two pseudo-morphemes) which are joined to rhyme: boogie-woogie, flibberty-gibberty ‘frivolous’, harum-scarum ‘disorganised’, helter-skelter ‘in disordered haste’, hoity-toity ‘snobbish’, humdrum ‘bore’, hurry-scurry ‘great hurry’, hurdy-gurdy ‘a small organ’, lovey-dovey ‘darling’, mumbo-jumbo ‘deliberate mystification, fetish’,

1 O. Jespersen, H. Koziol and the author of this book in a previous work.

namby-pamby ‘weakly sentimental’, titbit ‘a choice morsel’, willy-nilly ‘compulsorily’ (cf. Lat volens-nolens).

The choice of the basic sound cluster in some way or other is often not arbitrary but motivated, for instance, lovey-dovey is motivated in both parts, as well as willy-nilly. Hurry-scurry and a few other combinations are motivated in the first part, while the second is probably a blend if we take into consideration that in helter-skelter the second element is from obsolete skelt ‘hasten’.

About 40% of these rhyme combinations (a much higher percentage than with the ablaut combinations) are not motivated: namby-pamby, razzle-dazzle. A few are borrowed: pow-wow ‘a noisy assembly’ (an Algonquin1 word), mumbo-jumbo (from West African), but the type is purely English, and mostly modern.

The pattern is emotionally charged and chiefly colloquial, jocular, often sentimental in a babyish sort of way. The expressive character is mainly due to the effect of rhythm, rhyme and sound suggestiveness. It is intensified by endearing suffixes -y, -sie and the jocular -ty, -dy. Semantically predominant in this group are words denoting disorder, trickery, teasing names for persons, and lastly some playful nursery words. Baby-talk words are highly connotative because of their background.


The words like gillyflower or sparrow-grass are not actually compounds at all, they are cases of false-etymology, an attempt to find motivation for a borrowed word: gillyflower from OFr giroflé, crayfish (small lobster-like fresh-water crustacean, a spiny lobster) from OFr crevice, and sparrow-grass from Latin asparagus.

May-day (sometimes capitalised May Day) is an international radio signal used as a call for help from a ship or plane, and it has nothing to do with the name of the month, but is a distortion of the French m'aidez ‘help me’ and so is not a compound at all.

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