The Queen’s English


The Queen’s English.
Yes, I’ve heard that about her!  😆

If only more of the English people would speak the English language. Some of them think that, if a word is good enough to be said once, it should be slightly changed and said twice.  Sometimes this doubling-up is done to emphasize the meaning, but I am sure that sometimes it is done just to confuse those who don’t speak the local dialect.

It has brought us a bunch of word-pairs like; holus-bolus, okie-dokie, hurdy-gurdy, hunky-dory, hurly-burly, lovey-dovey, argy-bargy, hinky-dinky, rinky-dinky, hanky-panky, razzle-dazzle, willy-nilly, fuzzy-wuzzy, namby-pamby, itsy-bitsy, (t)eensy-weensy, (t)eeny-weeny, higgledy-piggledy, mumbo-jumbo, roly-poly, and tittle-tattle.

Cuckoo Clock

Why ‘Tock-Tick’ does not sound right, to your ear

Have you ever wondered why we say tick-tock, not tock-tick, or ding-dong, not dong-ding; King Kong, not Kong King?  It turns out that it is one of the unwritten rules of English that native speakers know, without even knowing.

The rule, explains a BBC article, is; “If there are three words, then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words, then the first is I, and the second is either A or O.”  Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, hip-hop, flip-flop, Tic Tac, sing-song, ding-dong, King Kong, ping-pong.

There’s another unwritten rule at work in the name Little Red Riding Hood, says the article. Articles in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion, size, age, color, origin, material, purpose, noun.  So, you can have a lovely, little, old, rectangular, green, French, silver, whittling knife.  If you tamper with that word order in the slightest, you sound like a maniac.

That explains why we say “little green men”, and not “green little men,” but “Big Bad Wolf” sounds like a gross violation of the “opinion (bad)- size (big)- noun (wolf) order. It isn’t though, if you recall the first rule about the I-A-O order.

That rule seems inviolable. “All four of a horse’s feet make exactly the same sound, but we always say clip-clop, never clop-clip.”  This rule even has a technical name, if you care to know about it – the rule of ablaut reduplication – but then life is simpler knowing that we know the rule, without knowing it.

Play it by ear.
If a word sequence sounds wrong, it probably is wrong.

7 thoughts on “The Queen’s English

  1. 1jaded1 says:

    Thank you, good English teacher. I’d like to pay a visit to my former ones and ask why they never passed that nugget of wisdom, but sadly, they are likely no longer here. I loved my French teacher. Adjectives are generally placed after the noun with the exception of beauty, age, goodness, and size. BAGS. Some things one never forgets.


    • shimoniac says:

      Yeah, no matter how hard one tries.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Archon's Den says:

      My French teacher never mentioned BAGS. It was all the English teacher could do, to get us hayseeds to speak English comprehensibly.
      French language rules confound Anglophone marketers, when they compose bilingual Canadian product labels. I still chuckle when I see the ketchup bottle that says, “Refrigerer une fois ouvert.” It should be ‘refrigerez‘, and means chill one time (once) opened.
      Adjective placement rules turn English ‘Natural Spring Water’ into ‘Eau de Source Naturelle’, which actually means ‘water from a natural spring’, which isn’t quite the same. It should be ‘Eau Naturelle de Source’.
      My mind runs amok, and wonders what an ‘unnatural’ spring would be, one surrounded by imps and minor demons? Even a ‘natural’ spring could bubble up beside Love Canal, or Three Mile Island. 🙄

      Liked by 2 people

      • 1jaded1 says:

        Some bottled water is sourced from the Detroit River. Wrap your mind around that one at 1.99 a bottle.


      • Archon's Den says:

        Like James Bond’s Thai ‘champagne.’ Phu Yuk! That, and the closing of the Gibraltar Trade Centre are two of the reasons why, the last time we visited, we stayed up in Roseville, MI.
        We now tend to visit a blog-friend in ‘Buffalo’. Her home is about 2 miles from Love Canal. The neighbor’s father lives 3/4 mi. – downstream. At 70, he still smokes ’cause….if that hasn’t killed him, nothing will. 😯


  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    Aah. Thanks for making lovey-dovey with the word-soup! 😉


  3. shimoniac says:

    Here we have a tip-top collection of hodgepodge. 😉


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