Ragbag of reduplication and ráiméis

Here are excerpts from my latest two posts for Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

A hotchpotch of reduplication is a brief introduction to, and survey of, reduplicatives. Reduplication is where “a word or part of a word is repeated, sometimes modified, and added to make a longer term”, such as aye-aye, hotchpotch, and ping-pong:

Reduplication can be categorised as follows: exact or repeating reduplication (bye-bye, hush-hush, goody-goody), rhyming reduplication (itsy-bitsy, okey-dokey, boogie woogie), and ablaut reduplication (chit-chat, tip-top, riff-raff). Ablaut is a term introduced by Jacob Grimm; it refers to vowel change, which in reduplicatives often follows certain patterns: zigzag, knick-knack, mingle-mangle, or criss-cross, flip-flop, sing-song.

Clusters of letters recur, as in shilly-shally, dilly-dally, silly billy and willy-nilly, while ‘h’ is a common first letter, appearing thus in helter-skelter, heebie-jeebies, hurdy-gurdy, hurly-burly, higgledy-piggledy, hocus-pocus, and hob-nob. Some reduplication is onomatopoetic or echoic: pitter-patter, splish splash, ding-dong and tick-tock… [more]

Poppycock, bunkum and rawmaish looks at our words for nonsense. Many of them, such as those listed in the next paragraph, are colourful, old-fashioned English terms; rawmaish is one that overseas readers are less likely to be familiar with: it’s an Anglicisation of the Irish word ráiméis, meaning nonsense or foolish talk.

Many words for nonsense have an entertaining, almost clownish feel. Think of baloney, balderdash, piffle, gobbledegook, gibberish, poppycock, flapdoodle, twaddle, tommyrot, hogwash, hooey, and a load of old cobblers. These are words to delight in, flamboyant terms that parade themselves in a sentence . . . .

Some have histories as curious as their sound and appearance. In her MED Magazine article ‘Talking Nonsense: old-fashioned terms for nonsense in English’, Diane Nicholls reports that poppycock originates in a Dutch dialectal word, pappekak, which translates literally as “soft dung”, while bunkum and its abbreviated form bunk hail from Buncombe, a county in North Carolina, owing to a minor political incident there in the early 19th century. [more]

Both articles have benefited greatly from the discussion in the comments, where readers have shared their favourite reduplicatives and words for nonsense, sometimes in verse form. More thoughts are always welcome, and my older articles are available here.

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6 Responses to Ragbag of reduplication and ráiméis

  1. johnwcowan says:

    The event was not in, but for, Buncombe County. In 1820, Congressman Felix Walker, who came from there, was giving a long, boring speech on an important and already thoroughly-discussed bill (the Missouri Compromise) that his colleagues resented. But he persisted, saying he was “talking not for Congress but for Buncombe”. They shouted him down, but the mostly irrelevant speech was later published in a Washington newspaper.

    At least, that’s the story. It may not be true, “and mind you, I’ve said nothing.”

  2. wisewebwoman says:

    i’m partial to blather and codswallup. And of course flummery is right up there too.
    XO
    WWW

  3. Stan says:

    John, thank you for the correction. So the story about bunkum could be bunkum, but I went and printed (well, posted) the legend.

    WWW: Ah, flummery! I see the word now and then, but I’ve never used it. This must change.

  4. Diane Nicolls says:

    My MED Magazine article (see Stan’s link) ‘Talking Nonsense: old-fashioned terms for nonsense in English’, did say clearly that the speech was in Congress, but ‘for bunkum’, and John has confirmed this, so the suspicion that ‘bunkum’ is ‘bunkum’ can be ‘debunked’ ;-) Phew!

  5. Diane Nicolls says:

    erm… I meant ‘for Buncombe’, of course, she blushed.

  6. Stan says:

    And thank you for the clarification, Diane. :-)

    The usage of bunk meaning nonsense always reminds me of The Hudsucker Proxy. It occurs a few seconds into this clip, for example.

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