I’ve had this one sitting on my desk for several months, always intending to post it but then distracted by various other activities. Now that I’ve moved far away from the city, I have more time to myself. Consequently, I turn to this interesting bit of trivia. Or is it trivia? Why, I ask, do we find these rhyming words so useful and expressive, and where did they come from? Like many now vernacular expressions, I’ll be at least some of these come from Shakespeare, though I confess to being too lazy to do the research.(Nevertheless, see “Henny-penny” below.) But I wasn’t too lazy to compile this list. Maybe you can add some that I haven’t thought of.

Helter skelter

Lovey dovey

Easy peasy

Shilly shally

Super duper

Razzle dazzle

Fancy schmancy

Loosey goosey

Turkey-lurkey   [this one comes from Henny-penny (“the sky is falling”) and includes Cocky-locky, Goosey-poosey, Foxy-woxy and the less rhythmically inclined Ducky-daddles. A great tale of, no doubt, political origin.]

Killer diller

Willy nilly

Harum scarum

Hanky panky

Hugger mugger

Teeny weeny

Roly poly

Artsy fartsy

Mumbo jumbo

So much for a few days random amusement. Now, I must think of something serious to write about.


About tdurrie

An aging radical with thoughts about society, education, arts, politics, and food.
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  1. Hi Tom. This is a post with the most! 😉

    That’s interesting. I hadn’t realized how many such rhyming expressions there are running about.

    I would be interested to find out their etymology. In general, they strike me as a victory of enthusiastic emphasis over cleverness.


  2. tdurrie says:

    I think you’re right about that. The added more-or-less meaningless rhyme acts as an intensifier. E.g. “easy” is one thing, but “easypeasey” sounds not only easier but also kind of fun.

  3. jakking says:

    Hi Tom:

    Helter Skelter is what in England were the large cylindrical slides that children rode down at fairgrounds.

    Shilly shally: to hesitate, is a corruption of “Will I, shall I?”

    Will nilly (Willing or not) is a corruption of “will-he, nill-he”; nill being a shortened form of n’will, or negative will.

    Harum scarum: an old English word “hare” meant to harass and scare

    Roly-poly comes from the cake made of old suet crust rolled up with jam — like a Swiss roll

    Mumbo Jumbo. In his 1797 “Travels In The Interior of Africa”, Mungo Park describes the mumbo-jumbo as a man dressed as an idol used to scare “quarrelsome” ladies in Mandingo tribes.

    Best I can do at this late hour! Jak

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