Word doubling

When you want to emphasis something, one way to do this in English, and in a number of other languages, is to repeat the word. Sometimes the repeated word is altered, often to make a better rhyme. Sometimes the second word is one with a similar meaning to the first one and which rhymes with it. There may be another linguistic term for this phenomenon, but for now I’m calling it word doubling.

Here are some examples:

easy peasy, really truly, holy moly
[additions] hurly-burly, helter-skelter, hob-nob, hodge-podge, flip-flop, riff-raff

i ndáiríre píre = really truly; cogar mogar = whispering

人々 (hitobito) = everybody (人 = person) – the symbol 々 indicates the duplication of a character.

小小的 (xiǎoxiaode) = very small;
滿滿的 (mǎnmǎnde) = full to the brim (滿的 = full);
四四方方 (sìsìfāngfāng) = having the shape of a real square (四方 = square).

Can you think of other examples? Does this happen in your language?

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23 Responses to Word doubling

  1. dmh says:

    In Chinese:

    马马虎虎 = mamahuhu (lit:horse horse tiger tiger) = so-so(so-so in english works too)

    Comme-ci, comme-ça – So-so, in French

    Also, there’s something like this in Korean, but I don’t remember what it is…

  2. Æren says:

    in tagalog reduplication is used sometimes to make the adjective or the verb strong.
    for example: mahal na mahal kita- I love you so much. [I love you- mahal kita]
    With adjectives reduplication is used for forming some of the superlative forms: Mabait na mabait ang nanay niya- Her mum is very nice.

  3. lynneguist says:

    The technical linguistic term is ‘partial reduplication’, in case you want to know…

  4. AR says:

    In Bengali, reduplication is with the retroflex ‘ta’ unless the word begins with
    ‘ta’ or something similar to it. It gives the idea of “and so on…”.
    cha-ta=tea and so on (tea as the meal)

  5. Ben L. says:

    “Reduplication” as a term is rather tongue-in-cheek. In any case, I made up the following sentence emphasizing reduplication in Mandarin (not sure it’s grammatical):


  6. Æren says:

    The tagalog grammar I use uses “reduplication”. About the partial reduplication… I think it suits more the repeating of the first “consonant-vowel” syllable of the verb root when forming the verb forms.

  7. Giovanni says:

    In Italian, we have the colloquial expression spendere e spandere.

    The first word is an actual verb that means “to spend (money)”, while the second verb is a made-up word that sounds almost like the first. Both verbs are accented on the first syllable.

    All in all, the expression means: to spend and waste a lot of money all the time, to spend money too easily. It can be used in a pejorative sense against rich people (the ones who show off, buy lots of vulgar things but do not have any taste — not the rich with culture), but also in an ironic way with somebody who is definitely not rich (for example, a teenager who always quickly wastes the little money that he has is a person who spende e spande).

    The late Rino Gaetano wrote a nice song in 1977 called Spendi spandi effendi. In this case the expression is used in the first, pejorative way.

  8. Giovanni says:

    Oops, just for the sake of completeness I add that spandere is an actual (transitive) verb that means “to spread, to pour, to diffuse”. The idiom makes more sense, I guess.

  9. Joe DeRose says:

    To go off on a slight tangent to your original message, I find it interesting that so many phrases in English that (1) rhyme with an H-P pattern, (2) form a widely recognized word or phrase, and (3) are composed of rhyming words that are, individually, either very obscure or completely meaningless. Off the top of my head:


  10. Krithika says:

    There are 2 French expressions that I can think of- cahin-caha = be so-so , struggle or limp along and clopin-clopant = much the same as the above.Clopin=lame and clopant is the present participle of clopiner=to limp.

    achu-pichu = ridiculous, not up to the mark depending upon the context.

  11. T-Moor says:

    Well, interesting topic. In Uzbek we say:
    kultur-multur (jokingly about culture)
    jinni-pinni (stupid – in a menacing way)
    Alish-Kalish (to mock a name – Alisher, kalish is a footwear)
    ovqat-povqat (food – is there anything to eat)
    well, can’t think of any other examples.

    In Russian:
    trali-vali (a famous song for children)
    kalinka-malinka ( national Russian song )

    In Tajik:
    ob-pob (water – when asking someone to give some water to drink)
    avqot-pavqot (food – is there any food to eat)

    Hope that these examples are enough!!!

  12. Logan says:

    Mongolian uses reduplication a lot. One way is when an adjective is intensified by repeated the first syllable of word and adding -v to the end :
    shav shar : bright yellow
    tsav tsagaan : pure white
    shiv shine : brand new
    Another way is to use echo words that reduplicate the word but change the first letter to m- (or to z- if the word starts with “m”). This gives the same notion as saying “and things” or “and stuff” in English :
    kino mino : movies and things
    mah zah : meat and such
    And sometimes a word is said twice to convey the idea that it’s meant to be plural : öör öör (öör = “self” or “other”, but when doubled it means “various”).

    Afrikaans uses doubled words a good deal, mostly as adverbs to convey an obvious idea. “Voetjie-voetjie” (pronounced “foykee-foykee”) translates as “step by step”, using the diminutive form of the word “voet” (foot, step). Another example could be “plek-plek” (literally “place-place”) to convey the idea of “here and there”. “Nou-nou” (now-now) means “just a minute” as in “Ek sal nou-nou by jou wees” (I’ll be with you in a minute).

  13. Harris Engelmann says:

    In Yiddish, there are a few cases of this:

    azoy-azoy = so-so
    kakh-v-kakh = such and such amount
    nokh-un-nokh = et cetera
    say-vi-say = anyway

    נאָך און נאָך
    סײַ װי סײַ

    Also, I think it’s interesting that mongolian “mah zah” is very similar to hebrew “mah zeh”- what’s this? Just somthing random

  14. David says:

    the only one I know of in Japanese is: maa maa= so so

  15. P Terry Hunt says:

    The English-language term “hugger-muggers” means – according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000 –
    “To keep secret; conceal. To act in a secretive manner. Origin unknown. hugger-mugger -ADVERB hugger-mugger·y -NOUN…”

    Note the “Origin unknown.” Could Simon’s
    “Irish . . . cogar mogar = whispering”
    be the origin?
    Does anyone have ‘The Complete Oxford . . .’ to hand (I’m at work and mine’s at home)?

  16. Polly says:

    Okey-Dokey – OK / Aye-aye…Oh! There’s another one.

    Hoi-Polloi – (fr. Greek) The general (usually unwashed?) public.

    In Armenian I ‘ve heard the first consonant of a word replaced with “m” to indicate “that or something like it.” An example might be Jahsh (food/meal) Mahsh
    But, it’s not used frequently.

    Also, in English I remember in the “old” days, sometimes, when someone wanted to denigrate something, they’d add “sh” to the front. Example:

    “Experts say that smoking causes lung cancer”

    “Awww…experts, Shmexperts, they don’t know nuthin'”

  17. theCritic says:

    Japanese, don’t forget all of their onomatopoetic words. That entire class of words is almost completely composed of word doubles. In Japanese it’s called ‘gisei-go’ which is broken down into ‘gitai-go’ and ‘gijou-go’. ‘Gitai-go’ describe sound effects in the outside world. ‘Gijou-go’ refer to someone’s inner emotional states.

    pera pera = quickly, fluently (in speech)

    bera bera = chatting, rattling

    guzu guzu = lazily, slowly

    ira ira = frustated

  18. Adam says:

    Hebrew sometimes uses doubling of adjectives to mean “very” (in addition to using the word very).

    מהר מהר (maher maher) = “very fast”

    Hebrew can also double the word “very”, just as in English:

    מאוד מאוד קשה (me’od me’od kasheh) = “very very hard”

    Also, I know of one word where a syllable is duplicated to mean “very”:

    יפה (yafeh) = “beautiful”
    יפהפה (yafefeh) = “very beautiful”

  19. Ben says:

    In Egyptian Arabic, “shweya” means “a little.” It’s often used as “shweya shweya.”

    And in that Mongolian-Hebrew pidjin that everybody’s talkin’ nowadays, “Mah zeh?” “Mah zah!”


  20. Lang says:

    Sorry, but greek “Hoi Polloi” is not a reduplication.”hoi” is an article and “polloi” an adjetive. Both have the same ending.

    In Spanish we have “casi casi”= almost, nearly.
    But the most used reduplicatios are onomatopoeic words.

  21. Polly says:

    You’re right that it is not an example of reduplication in that the same word isn’t repeated. I stand corrected.

    But, in English, the definite article isn’t part of the translation as evidenced by the inclusion of “the” before it – even by authors who knew Greek. So, what you end up having is two words meaning one thing and I think it’s popularity in English probably rests on the same alliterative H-P coupling that Joe DeRose mentioned, i.e. it’s probably regarded as if it were doubling.

  22. zhiguli says:

    khmer has quite a few:

    មួយៗ​ muey-muey slowly (lit. “one-one”)
    ផ្សេងៗ pseing-pseing of various kinds (pseing – to be different)
    ស្រីៗ​ srey-srey girls/women
    តូចៗ​ touc-touc small and numerous

    the repitition symbol is a modified numeral 2 (២). interesting what other languages have this.
    in japanese/cantonese they have 々
    in indonesian they use the squared sign ²
    and thai also uses a form of the number 2 – ๆ

  23. John Marsh says:

    There is an interesting example in Fijian. “caka” means hard, or difficult, and “cakacaka” means work.

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