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Words and Stuff: The roly-poly raggle-taggle of ricochets

Regulars | August Issue


The roly-poly raggle-taggle of ricochets

It was ‘greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery’ that got me started. The line was familiar since childhood, but I’d never bothered to investigate its origin, which is in Patience, where W. S. Gilbert takes a satirical swipe at the anti-establishment Aesthetic Movement’s home gallery. That led me not just to the famous dispute between Ruskin and Whistler, which started after Ruskin had looked in at the gallery and saw ‘a coxcomb [asking] two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’, but also to the pleasure that lies in reduplicated compounds, also known as ricochet words. ‘Greenery-yallery’ is a fine example of these, being both inventive and easy on the ear. But, thinking about others in the same class, I found they were nearly all pleasurable. Those that involve simple repetition are the least amusing. ‘Ga-ga’ is increasingly useful for oldies like me, but ‘bye-bye’, ‘chop-chop’, ‘clever-clever’, ‘goody-goody’...

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