Word Words (English)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Word word is a term coined by Paul Dickson to describe a word or name that's repeated to distinguish it from a seemingly identical word or name.

A more formal term for a word word is duplicate reduplication, lexical cloning, or contrastive focus reduplication. See "Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (The Salad-Salad Paper)," by Jila Ghomeshi et al., (Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 22: 2004). 

 See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "There are situations in which it is necessary to repeat a word in order to make sure someone knows what you are talking about. For instance, you might be asked, 'Are you talking about an American Indian or an Indian Indian?' Or 'Oh, you're talking about grass grass. I thought you were talking about grass.'
    "From what I have been able to determine, there is no word for this phenomenon, and 'word word' seemed to be a logical name to give it."
    (Paul Dickson, Words: A Connoisseur's Collection of Old and New, Weird and Wonderful, Useful and Outlandish Words. Dell, 1983)
  • School-School
    "[T]he writer, the person who 'knows the importance of holidays,' clarifies: 'I don't mean school-school, I mean fun-learning!'"
    (Ho Chee Lick, "Values and Daily Discursive Practices." Text in Education and Society, ed. by Desmond Allison et al. Singapore University Press, 1998)
  • Murder Murder
    "Have you ever murdered anyone?"
    "Is this a philosophical question?"
    "I don't mean warfare. I mean murder, murder."
    (Kathryn Miller Haines, Winter in June: A Rosie Winter Mystery. HarperCollins, 2009)
  • Soap Soap
    "Soap gumdrops, soap cigars, soap pickles, soap chocolates, and even a bar of soap soap that dyed its user an indelible blue made life exciting for the friends of a Johnson Smith addict."
    (Jean Shepherd, A Fistful of Fig Newtons. Random House, 1981)
  • Commitment and Commitment
    "In relationships, there's commitment and commitment, the kind that involves a license, usually some kind of religious blessing and a ceremony in which every one of your close friends and relatives watches you and your partner promise to stay together until one of you dies."
    (Aziz Ansari, "Everything You Thought You Knew About L-o-v-e Is Wrong." Time, June 15, 2015)
  • Woman-Woman
    "The crux of [Federica Monyseny's] feminist message was that each and every woman should fulfill her own potential as a unique individual, as a woman-woman, not as a masculinized woman-man nor as a feminine woman-female."
    (Catherine Davies, Spanish Women's Writing, 1849-1996. Athlone Press, 1998)
  • Indian Indian
    "For an Indian Indian, there simply isn't any future in an Anglo-Indian world."
    (Duleep in the novel The Jewel in the Crown, by Paul Scott. Heinemann, 1966)
  • The "Real" Meaning
    "Recently, I overheard someone say: 'You mean he's GONE gone?' This person was asking whether the chap had actually gone for good, as opposed to just ducking out for a wee while. . . .
    "In these examples, the copied expression points to the 'real' or true meaning of the term referred to. You can usually rephrase the whole thing using modifiers like real or really. . . . [I]nstead of 'He's GONE gone,' you could say 'He's really gone.' Usually the repetition indicates that the literal meaning is intended."
    (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins, 2011)
  • Noun-Nouning
    "By repeating a noun twice, one invokes the noun's generic form, its invariant-memory form. 'No, I don't want blue khakis with pleats. Just give me clean generic beige khaki-khakis.' Or, 'Officer, I've tried to remember what kind of car the getaway car was but I can't—it was just a car-car.'"
    (Douglas Coupland, Player One: What Is to Become of Us. House of Anansi Press, 2010)
  • The Lighter Side of Word Words
    Detective Charlie Crews: The girl at Lola's, she told me that the dead shoe store guy and the hat kiosk girl are in there a lot, together.
    Detective Dani Reese: Together together?
    Detective Charlie Crews: Together together.
    (Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi, "Black Friday." Life, 2008)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Word Words (English)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/word-words-english-1692506. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Word Words (English). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/word-words-english-1692506 Nordquist, Richard. "Word Words (English)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/word-words-english-1692506 (accessed June 6, 2023).