What Do You Call Words Like Wishy-Washy or Mumbo Jumbo?

atkins bookshelf wordsWords like wishy-washy or mumbo-jumbo, or any words that contain two identical or similar parts (a segment, syllable, or morpheme), are called tautonyms. Another term for these is reduplicative words since the process of forming them is known as reduplication. In many cases, the first word is a real word while the second part (often nonsensical) is invented to create a rhyme and to create emphasis. Most tautonyms begin as hyphenated words and through common usage eventually drop the hyphen to become single words. Regardless of their hyphenation, they underscore the playfulness of the English language. Below are some common tautonyms (many function as nouns and verbs).

argle-bargle: nonsense; heated argument

argy-bargy: heated argument

boob-tube: television

boogie-woogie: blues-style music with a strong, fast beat; a dance to pop or rock music

chick flick: a movie primary for women

crisscross: intersecting straight paths or lines

dilly-dally: to waste time through indecision or loitering

ding-dong: the noise made by a bell

fancy-schmancy: elaborately decorated to impress

fiddle-faddle: a trademarked name for popcorn

flimflam: nonsense; to swindle

flip-flop: a light sandal; backward handspring; abrupt reversal of a position or policy

fuddy-duddy: a fussy or old-fashioned person

gewgaw: cheap, showy jewelry or thing

hanky-panky: improper behavior, typically sexual in nature

harum-scarum: impetuous

heebie-jeebies: a state of nervous fear, anxiety

helter-skelter: disorder or confusion; in disorderly haste

higgledy-piggledy: in a disorderly manner

hobnob: to mix socially, particularly with those of high social status

hocus-pocus: meaningless activity or talk, often to draw attention away from something

hodgepodge: a motley assortment of things

hoity-toity: snobbish

hokey-pokey: trickery; a song that describes the movements of a dance performed in a circle

hotchpotch: a motley assortment of things; a mutton stew with vegetables

hubba hubba: a phrase to express enthusiasm or approval

hubble-bubble: a hookah, an oriental tobacco pipe with a long flexible tube connected to a container where the smoke is cooled by passing through water

hubbub: chaotic noise created by a crowd of people; a busy, noisy situation

hugger-mugger: disorderly; secret

hullabaloo: a commotion

hurdy-gurdy: a musical instrument that makes music by rotation of a cylinder that is studded with pegs

hurly burly: busy or noisy activity

itty-bitty: very small

knickknack: a small object, often a household ornament, of little or no value

lovey-dovey: extremely affectionate or romantic

mishmash: a random assortment of things

mumbo jumbo: language or ritual causing, or intending to cause, confusion

namby-pamby: weak in willpower, courage or vitality

niminy-piminy: very dainty or refined

nitty-gritty: the most important details about something

okey-dokey: OK

pall-mall: a 16th century game in which a wooden ball was drive through an iron ring suspended at the end of an alley

pell-mell: in a rushed or reckless manner

ping-pong: table tennis

pitter-patter: the sound of quick light steps; to move or make the sound of quick light steps

razzle-dazzle: showy, noisy activity designed to impress

riffraff: undesirable people

roly-poly: plump

shilly-shally: failing to act decisively

singsong: the repeated rising and falling of a person’s voice as they speak

skimple-skamble: senseless, gibberish

so-so: neither very good nor very bad

super-duper: very good

teeny-weeny: very small, tiny 

teeter-totter: a seesaw

tick-tock: the sound of a clock ticking; making a ticking sound

tittle-tattle: light informal conversation for social occasions

topsy-turvy: upside down; in a state of confusion

voodoo: followers of a religion that involves witchcraft and animistic deities

walkie-talkie: portable two-way radio

wigwag: to move to and fro

willy-nilly: whether one likes it or not; haphazardly

wishy-washy: weak, feeble, lacking character

yada yada (or yadda yadda): used as a substitute for a longer predictable story; boring language

zigzag: a line or course with abrupt right and left turns; veering alternatively to right and left

Read related posts: What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

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Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
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