Reduplicative Words

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms - Reduplication Examples

The brand name of this candy-coated popcorn is a reduplicative.


A reduplicative is a word or lexeme (such as mama) that contains two identical or very similar parts. Also called a tautonym.

The morphological and phonological process of forming a compound word by repeating all or part of it is known as reduplication. The repeated element is called a reduplicant.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:

Examples and Observations

  • "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
    (Winston Churchill, remarks at a White House luncheon, Washington, D.C., June 16, 1954)
  • "Hands off the man,
    the flim flam man.
    His mind is up his sleeve
    and his talk is make believe."
    (Laura Nyro, "Flim Flam Man")
  • Newspaper editor: We're looking for a new food critic, someone who doesn't immediately pooh-pooh everything he eats.
    Homer: Nah, it usually takes a few hours.
    ("Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" The Simpsons, 1999)
  • "I don't dally much with riff-raff these days, and he's a pretty raffy kind of a riff."
    (Bob Hope as Turkey Jackson in Road to Morocco, 1942)
  • "Enough chit-chat. Let's see how you like flaming garbage!"
    (Moe in ""A Tale of Two Springfields." The Simpsons, 2000)
  • "Bing bang, I saw the whole gang
    Dancing on my living room rug, yeah.
    Flip flop, they was doing the bop.
    All the teens had the dancing bug."
    (Bobby Darin and Murray Kaufman, "Splish Splash")
  • "I had no notion of being lost in so much light; but I had wander'd out of the main streets, and was got into the crinkum-crankum parts of London, where there are turnings and windings on every side."
    (Peter Thrifty, "A Farmer's Description of the Illuminations in London." The Sporting Magazine, Feb. 1802)
  • "Items with identical spoken constituents, such as goody-goody and din-din, are rare. What is normal is for a single vowel or consonant to change between the first constituent and the second, such as see-saw and walkie-talkie.

    "Reduplicatives are used in a variety of ways. Some simply imitate sounds: ding-dong, bow-wow. Some suggest alternative movements: flip-flop, ping-pong. Some are disparaging: dilly-dally, wishy-washy. And some intensify meaning: teeny-weeny, tip-top. Reduplication is not a major means of creating lexemes in English, but it is perhaps the most unusual one."
    (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003)

Nonsense Jingles

  • "The majority of . . . reduplicated forms involve a play on the rhyme of words. The result can be a combination of two existing words, like flower-power and culture-vulture, but more usually one of the elements is meaningless, as in superduper, or both, as in namby-pamby. Now, it struck me the other day that a large number of these nonsense jingles begin with 'h.' Think of hoity-toity, higgledy-piggledy, hanky-panky, hokey-pokey, hob-nob, heebie-jeebies, hocus-pocus, hugger-mugger, hurly-burly, hodge-podge, hurdy-gurdy, hubbub, hullabaloo, harumscarum, helter-skelter, hurry-scurry, hooley-dooley and don't forget Humpty Dumpty. And these are just a few!"
    (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins Australia, 2011)

    Borrowed Reduplicatives

    • "Reduplicated words do not appear at all until the EMnE [early Modern English] period. When they do appear, they are usually direct borrowings from some other language, such as Portuguese dodo (1628), Spanish grugru (1796) and motmot (1651), French haha 'ditch' (1712), and Maori kaka (1774). Even the nursery words mama and papa were borrowed from French in the 17th century. So-so is probably the sole native formation from the EMnE period; it is first recorded in 1530."
      (C. M. Millward and Mary Hayes, A Biography of the English Language, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

    Morphological Reduplication and Phonological Duplication

    • "Below we list some criteria for determining when a copying effect is reduplication and when it is phonological duplication.
      (1) Phonological duplication serves a phonological purpose; morphological reduplication serves a morphological process (either by being a word-formation process itself or by enabling another word-formation process to take place . . .).

      (2) Phonological duplication involves a single phonological segment . . .; morphological reduplication involves an entire morphological constituent ( affix, root, stem, word), potentially truncated to a prosodic constituent (mora, syllable, foot).

      (3) Phonological duplication involves, by definition, phonological identity, while morphological reduplication involves semantic, not necessarily phonological, identity.

      (4) Phonological duplication is local (a copied consonant is a copy of the closest consonant, for example), while morphological reduplication is not necessarily local."
      (Sharon Inkelas, "Morphological Doubling Theory: Evidence for Morphological Doubling in Reduplication." Studies on Reduplication, ed. by Bernhard Hurch. Walter de Gruyter, 2005)
    • "Correct me if I'm wrong: the gizmo is connected to the flingflang connected to the watzis, watzis connected to the doo-dad connected to the ding dong.”
      (Patrick B. Oliphant)
    • "Dilly dally shilly shally!"
      (Tifa Lockhart in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children)

    Pronunciation: ree-DOO-plik-uh-tiv

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Reduplicative Words." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 5). Reduplicative Words. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Reduplicative Words." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 22, 2018).