Saturday, February 3, 2007

Come again

Reduplication’ is a word that needs no dictionary to decipher it. It means exactly what it says; which is, ‘double again’. Derived from the Latin verb reduplicare, it is made up of re, meaning ‘again’, and duplicare, meaning ‘duplicate’. As a process of word formation, reduplication creates new words through repetition by doubling the whole word or a part of it to create a new word. To date, around two thousand-odd words have been created in English through reduplication and the gamut ranges from nursery-level words like ‘bow-wow’ to rare ones like ‘argy-bargy’ that means ‘argumentative talk or wrangling’.

In words like ‘goody-goody, fifty-fifty, never-never and hush-hush’, the whole stem or original word is repeated without any change. The second kind of reduplication involves some modification of the stem as in ‘dilly-dally, shilly-shally, mishmash, riffraff and flip-flop’.

The third set of reduplicated words is the largest and it involves the addition of a rhyming element to the stem. The rhyming part could be an already existing word as in ‘fat cat, stun gun, brain drain, flower power and culture vulture’ or it could be a meaningless element as in ‘super duper, teeny weeny, helter-skelter, namby pamby and hanky panky’.

As in some of the words above, sometimes expressions can be made up of two meaningless elements and still manage to convey meaning, such is the power of usage. Sometimes, these words may have been meaningful but once put together, they lose their identity as words with meaning independent of each other. For instance, the word ‘nitwit’ is made up of ‘nit’, meaning ‘louse’, and ‘wit’, meaning ‘intellect’, but nobody associates the parts with their original meaning.

Similarly, ‘hi-fi’ has taken on so many meanings that it no longer resembles the original word ‘high-fidelity’. In the same manner, ‘willy-nilly’ was derived from the expression ‘will I nill I’ based on the verbs ‘willen’, meaning ‘want’, and ‘nillen’, meaning ‘not want’.

Words like ‘razzmatazz, pooh-pooh, jimjams, razzle-dazzle, chit-chat, mish-mash, ping-pong, bling-bling and hip-hop’, all created through reduplication, are also called ‘ricochet’ words because they ‘rebound’ just like a bullet ricochets.