Rhyming Reduplications

topsy turvyReduplications are words or phrases that contain a duplicated element.  An example is the phrase "riffraff".  The two parts of the word are almost the same (i.e. "riff" and "raff"), but they have a small change (the vowels). 

When you have a rhyming reduplication, the duplicated element rhymes with the original element in the phrase.  A good example is "lovey-dovey".

I started thinking about rhyming reduplications recently after my friend Anne wrote a list of them on Facebook.  Below is what she wrote (definitions added):

"Helter-skelter (disorderly haste)
Harum-scarum (reckless)
Pell-mell (in a jumbled manner)
Raggle-taggle (motley)
Hobson-jobson (altering a foreign word to fit your language)
Hurly-burly (commotion)
….and my favorite, higgledy-piggledy (in a confused manner)."

Anne’s friends added more:

Roley-poley (pudgy)
Hugger-mugger (disorderly confusion)
Willy-nilly (in a haphazard manner)
Heebie-jeebies (a feeling of anxiety over something)
Hither-and-thither (to move at random)
Hokus-pokus (a "magical" incantation used by magicians)
Itsy-bitsy (very little)
Handy-dandy (a game where you guess in which closed hand a person is hiding an object)

There are other phrases that are simply called reduplications because they don’t rhyme.  Here are a few:

Topsey-turvy (utter disorder)
Zigzag (making sharp, angular turns left and right, left and right)
Riff-raff (disreputable people)

Reduplications sound so great!  It’s not surprising that three of them from above can be found in nursery rhymes:

Higgledy Piggledy My Black Hen

Roley Poley Pudding and Pie

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Reduplications are great to teach kids.  Children love how they sound and they encourage rhyming.

Feel free to mention other reduplications in the comments below (we welcome them in any language).

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Friday, May 10th, 2013 at 11:46 am and is filed under Australia, Canada, Countries & Cultures, England, English, India, Languages, Rhyming Reduplications, USA, Words & Phrases. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Rhyming Reduplications”

  1. Moftah Saad Says:


  2. Samson Says:

    i loved this website, i am very much interested in learning full British English.

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