Wednesday, December 28, 2016


We are in that curious stretch between Christmas and New Years. Holidays pop up at irregular intervals, dishes and serving plates seldom seen emerge from storage, a few wadded up remnants of wrapping paper hide in corners and under furniture.

It is all rather Higgledy-Piggledy.

I like the phrase.  It first shows up in the 1590s and has a logical origin, the disarray typical of pigs.

Duplication words with altered initial consonants are more common than you might expect. Probably for the excellent if simplistic reason that they are fun both to hear and to speak.

Hanky-Panky, and Hocus-Pocus are a couple more that are well known.  But a quick stroll down Etymology Lane turns up so many more.  Many date from the 1600s when this particular vein of linguistic ore seems to have been most productive.

Some I already knew:

Hodge-Podge, Hurly-Burley, Hub-Bub, Helter-Skelter, Jibber-Jabber and Topsy-Turvy.  Topsy-Turvey fittingly exists in 31 variants!

Other words I did not know, and sadly will have difficulty fitting into any forseeable conversations:

Kim-Kam, Crawly-Mawly, Mingle-Mangle and Hab-Nab.  Flim-Flam I of course knew, but Crinkle-Crankle, Gibble-Gabble, Hiccup-Suickup were new to me.

Most of these are from a single wondrous source Edward Moor's "Suffolk Words and Phrases" (London, 1823).  Moor in turn quotes from an earlier work,  John Ray's "Collection of English Words Not Generally Used" (1768).

Higgledy-Piggledy and all its sound alikes are said to be "conceited rhyming words" all said to "signify any confusion or mixture".

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