For example, "rabbit rabbit" is a phrase to be uttered first thing in the morning on the first day of the month for good luck all month long. The origin of the phrase has to do with rabbits bringing good luck. Directors on set instruct extras to say "rhubarb rhubarb" to one another during a party scene because of its lack of distracting, sharp phonemes. The repetition of the same word creates a new, unexpected, and unrelated meaning.

Would it be related to the term used to describe repeating the same word twice to create a new word? Dancing the can-can (or cancan) has nothing to do with cans though it might be an abbreviated version of scandal-scandal.

Epizeuxis is more like repeating the same word over again for emphasis or vehemence, like 'location location location!' to imply that the success of a business depends on where the shop is located.

Are the above examples different enough to merit distinction and a term of their own or would they be considered examples of epizeuxis?

(Not interested in grammatical repetition of words although the sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo," is really fascinating both grammatically and sensically.)

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    Repeating 'rhubarb' is merely producing a desired sound, rather like using thunder drums, not forming a new lexeme. It has no meaning. Saying 'Rabbit rabbit!' (I remember it as 'White rabbit!') is a meaningless incantation, rather like touching wood. No new lexemes are being created. Aug 1, 2017 at 23:45
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there is a misconception that new meanings are being created by repetition, whereas words are just being used as dramatic fillers or in a talismanic way. Aug 1, 2017 at 23:47
  • You say the double words 'create a new meaning', but I can't decide if that is really true. The double words you describe certainly have a purpose, but does that equal meaning? eg with 'rhubarb', it is employed purely as a sound in a situation where sound must be devoid of meaning. "Rabbit rabbit" is a ritualised utterance used to assure luck, but essentially meaningless. So, I guess I'm just asking if the Q should say purpose rather than meaning; on the strength of your examples?
    – Spagirl
    Aug 1, 2017 at 23:58
  • @EdwinAshworth Ha! It took me so long to work out how to phrase mine that you snuck in with a much more concise version in the meantime!
    – Spagirl
    Aug 2, 2017 at 0:01
  • Besides, it's not "rhubarb, rhubarb", it's "rhubarb pie".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 2, 2017 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


A type of Reduplication

This linguistic term for saying the same word twice in succession is "reduplication". (Alternative terms less commonly encountered include "duplication" or "doubling".)

You are correct that the term "epizeuxis" is used only for cases where repetition is used for emphasis or to intensify meaning ("Never never never give up!")

For the case where reduplication is used to form a new meaning, I am not aware of a specific word. We could describe it as neologistic reduplication.

Reduplication has many functions depending on which language you are speaking. In English, it is very often epizeuxis. Interestingly, in Malay, for example, it is how plurals are formed (orang = man, orang-orang = men).

In English it can be used to to cute effect in creating words that might be considered kidspeak: mama, dada, nana, boo-boo, wee-wee, tum-tum, etc.

It is also quite common in English to form reduplicatives where one vowel changes: riff-raff, sing-song, ding-dong, tip-top, wishy-washy, dilly-dally, chit-chat, mumbo-jumbo, namby-pamby, roly-poly, and so on. These are usually considered to be a type of reduplication.

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    See also: What does “small small” mean in Indian English?
    – NVZ
    Aug 4, 2017 at 18:31
  • 'Reduplication' is a far broader term; I've never seen a definition like 'repeating the same word twice or more to create a new meaning altogether', and you fail to provide one. None of your examples seems to meet the requirements of this definition. Yes, 'reduplication' is a hypernym, but this has been covered here before. Aug 4, 2017 at 22:09
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    @EdwinAshworth Fair point. I have edited my answer to make it clearer that what the OP describes is a type of reduplication. Aug 4, 2017 at 23:12

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