by Kim Pederson…….
In an email I received today The Grammarist wondered “Do reduplicated phrases cause anxiety?” The question relates to the term “heebie-jeebies.” According to MW, the H-J term is a plural noun that refers to “a tense nervous jumpy condition produced by various causes (as in strain, irritation, fear, worry), one sometimes marked by hallucinations.” It first appeared on October 26, 1923, in the Barney Google cartoon strip. Other reduplicated phrases (RPs), that is, phrases where part of the root word is repeated in another word, include hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo, and the bee’s knees.
RPs come in several varieties. There’s rhyming (boogie-woogie, hanky-panky, helter-skelter). There’s exact (bling-bling, wee-wee, yada-yada). And there’s ablaut…say what? I had to look it up, of course. Ablaut is a systematic variation of vowels in the same root or affix or in related roots or affixes in the Indo-European languages usually paralleled by differences in use or meaning. Ah. Thanks, MW. I think. Anyway, ablaut reduplications include things like fiddle-faddle, flim-flam, and wishy-washy.
Humans, it seems, start using reduplications while in the babbling infant stage. Mama, Dada, Nana, and the like. Unlike diapers, though, we never grow out of them. One researcher writes that RPs exist “functionally and pragmatically in all types of everyday English” (and other languages) and that such “interesting word play…can serve to enrich any language.” There’s even a RP subgroup called “shm-reduplication,” which you can probably figure out. Aga-shmaga is one my wife and I throw around to denote a certain jealous disdain for high-end Swedish appliances.
I’ve discovered that an effective way to ease stress over current events is to play the shmuplication game. Basically, what you do is use an RP to summarily dismiss a person or thing the instant that person or thing annoys you, frightens you, depresses you, angers you, or drives you to the substance abuse of your choice. Try a few for practice. Keep in mind that these are more effective if you give a little flap of your hand at the person or object when you speak the words. You might say, for example, Donald-shmonald. Hillary-shmillary. Bernie-shmernie. Ted-shmed. Mario-shmario. Brady-shmady. ISIS-SHMISIS. Chuck-shmuck. Brexit-shmexit. Wall-shmall. Ban-shman. Bannon-shmannon. Now you’ve got it. Go ahead. Make up one of your own. Now say it with the hand flap. Excellent. Feel better? Good. I knew you would.
*Billy DeBeck used Barney Google as a byline on the earliest Bughouse Fables panels. Public Domain.
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