A: Hey, I just bought a mouse.
B: A mouse mouse? Or a computer mouse?

What is this exactly? And are there any rules?

marked as duplicate by ermanen, choster, Centaurus, JHCL, Mari-Lou A Oct 24 '15 at 1:01

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  • 2
    The first "mouse" of the pair is being used as an adjective. In terms of syntax it's no different from "red mouse". – Hot Licks Oct 23 '15 at 12:48
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    Had I been B: A: Hey, I just bought a mouse. B:Did you get a cage too, with the little Ferris wheel that he can run around in? A:No, I mean a computer mouse! B:So the Ferris wheel is simulated on the screen?? – Hot Licks Oct 23 '15 at 17:25
  • @HotLicks: Groan! But +1 anyway. Don – rhetorician Oct 23 '15 at 17:59
  • The phenomenon is called red duplication. Some languages use it with verbs to indicate completed action (Swahili). I think of it as intensification. – Mitch Oct 23 '15 at 18:17

This is a kind of retronym. It has been called contrastive focus reduplication.

  • Retronym: a better term by virtue of its parsimoniousness! You deserve to have the #1 answer. I bow to you, saying "I am not worthy. I am not worthy" (seriously--well, kinda). Cheers and kudos. Don – rhetorician Oct 23 '15 at 21:44

Rhetorically, there is, by implication, a combination of synecdoche and metonymy involved in the "mouse mouse" locution.

These two figures of speech involve part-to-whole relationships and/or the substitution of parts-to-whole relationships.

All hands on deck [implied is "the deck of the ship"]

is metonymic because the word hands is a substitute for the word sailors. Yes, hands are part and parcel of sailors' bodies, but those hands are also, synecdochally, parts of a whole.

"Mouse mouse," then, means in essence "a real mouse" (or perhaps more accurately, a "live mouse" or a "flesh and blood mouse"). Just as a computer mouse imitates a real mouse by being small, having a "tail" (if it's a wired mouse, that is), and moving around the mouse pad in little and quick movements, so also does the real mouse by virtue of being small, having a tail, and moving about in little and quick movements, correspond synecdochally to the faux (computer) mouse.

This inter-correspondence or analogical similarity of features is at the heart of the way the synecdoche/metonymy figure is employed in the "mouse mouse" locution.

  • 3
    +1 for "a real mouse." (cf the twisted, imo, souls who came up with and purchase "The real mouse, mouse"!) – Papa Poule Oct 23 '15 at 13:54
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    +1 Having read through the possible duplicates and their answers, this answer is the only one to spell out that when the word is repeated, replacing the first one with "real" gives the intended meaning. – AndyT Oct 23 '15 at 15:59
  • @chaslyfromUK i like your sentiment. i would offer that this construction denotes the original or most common meaning of the word, rather than some newer meaning. – ell Oct 23 '15 at 19:07
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    @AndyT, It is not clear to me that 'real' achieves any clarity at all. My computer mouse is perfectly real--I have it right here. Surely 'biological mouse' would resolve the matter. – chasly from UK Oct 23 '15 at 19:09
  • @chaslyfromUK: I agree with you. A "flesh-and-blood mouse" would be a wordier, though more accurate, expression. I've edited my original answer. Don – rhetorician Oct 23 '15 at 21:38

This is an instance of 'noun as adjective'. The usage is explained in the article quoted below in some detail.

The important point is that there is no difference in grammar between 'mouse mouse' and 'computer mouse'. In both cases a noun is used to qualify another noun. You can think of it as a coincidence that the first phrase uses the same word twice.

The reason for this usage is that computer mice are more commonly found in most houses now than are real mice. That represents a big change in our language--before personal computers, the reverse was true.

That said, there is an element of humour involved and the repetition sounds 'cute'. It would have been clearer to say, "A house mouse or a computer mouse?".


There is unlikely to be a phrase covering this specific use of a repeated word (in my opinion) because the phenomenon that gave rise to it is very rare or even unique. Maybe someone will prove me wrong with other examples.

Noun as Adjective
Sometimes we use a noun to describe another noun. In that case, the first noun "acts as" an adjective... The "noun as adjective" always comes first...

English Club Website

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