Tag Archives: Reduplicative phrases

Krakel Spektakel, yummy mummies and Foxy Knoxy

Lennart Helsing is a Swedish national treasure. Written in the spirit of Edward Lear, his wonderful children’s books have delighted many generations of kids. There’s even a new film based on his work.

Anglophile Helsing understands how much children love to play with words and is wonderfully inventive with language. The names of his characters say it all: Håkan Bråkan, Krakel Spektakel etc.

The technical term for rhyming doubles like this is reduplicative phrases. And English speakers love them even though very few us know that term. Used all the time, our language is choc-a-bloc with them:

pub grub, hanky panky, hoity toity, Delhi belly, higgledy piggledy, culture vulture, pow wow, jet set, slo mo, airy fairy, namby pamby etc

Expressions like riff raff and mish mash have been around since Shakespeare’s time. And we are constantly inventing new ones: flower power, pooper scooper, yummy mummy etc.

Some of these phrases are rich in meaning.  A yummy mummy is far more than a good looking mum. It’s a woman who despite having small children, is always immaculately dressed in designer clothes and has perfect make up. It’s definitely slightly pejorative. The revenge of all those other mums who don’t have nannies and a rich husband.

Reduplicatives are very popular for nicknames which tend to stick. President Nixon will always be Tricky Dicky. And consider the case of Amanda Knox, the American woman at the centre of the much publicized murder case in Perugia. A journalist coined the nickname Foxy Knoxy and suddenly the media of the world had a peg on which to hang all their comments about her bohemian lifestyle. She must be cursing that hack.  She’s Foxy Knoxy for the rest of her life now.