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Helter-Skelter Reduplicatives

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Jerrell in San Antonio, Texas, is curious about the term helter-skelter, meaning “haphazardly.” English is full of such reduplicatives, also called rhyming jingles, flip-flop words, or echo words. They fall into three categories: one-syllable rhymes such as choo-choo and doo-doo; ablaut reduplications involving a vowel change, such as clip-clop, chit-chat, and wishy-washy; and rhyming reduplicatives that involve a change in the initial sound, such as helter-skelter, super-duper, lovey-dovey, hurly-burly, willy-nilly, and higgledy-piggledy. The reduplicative term boris-noris, which found in 19th-century dialect dictionaries, means “carelessly” or “recklessly.” This is part of a complete episode.

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