From Airy-Fairy to Yummy Mummy by Mark Broatch

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From Airy-Fairy to Yummy Mummy: A Journey Through Our Favourite Rhyming Phrases

Reduplication of vowel variation, that’s how the Oxford English Dictionary describes the kind of rhyming, near-rhyming and reverberating expressions that occupy a big part of this book.

Reduplicated words often have one word that supplies the basic sense and a rhyming, frequently meaningless word that provides emphasis (super-duper, herky-jerky). Other reduplications are repetitions for emphasis or provide subtle changes of meaning (kissy-kissy, hush-hush), and those with two meaningful parts (flower-power, sing-song) or at least once-meaningful bribble-brabble, hockerty-cockerty).

Other terms with rhyming parts but not strictly reduplications snuck in simply because they entertain and intrigue (hoppo-bumpo, skew-whiff). English is incorrigible for inventing rhymes that are a bit nonsensical. Perhaps because of this, many of the terms included here mean just that – nonsense. Try, in alphabetical order, blibber-blabber, claptrap, flim-flam, hocus-pocus, phony-baloney, twiddle-twaddle, whim-wham.

The redoubled form is particularly useful in expressing a few other ideas: put-downs, ranging from the mildly scoffing to the contemptuous (fuddy-duddy); possibly dubious activities (rumpy-pumpy); and spirited disorder (holus-bolus). “H” and “T” are particularly useful letters for rhyming reduplications. One suspects the scoffing power of aspiration – “Hah!” or “Tsk!” – followed by the music of repetition deeply engages the listening parts of the brain. More than 200 terms are here for you to enjoy and expand your word power, each explained by its history and use, and an example is given from recent employment in mainstream media.

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