Why ‘tock-tick’ sounds so, so wrong

May 26, 2017

It’s Friday and everyone’s already one foot out the door into a well-earned 3-day weekend. So, instead of diving into crazy valuations and Bitcoin mumbo jumbo, we thought it’d be nice to hop off the fast-news highway and mosey on the down dirt road of curiosity.

Here’s a juicy knowledge nugget that you probably use on a daily basis, is just unnecessary enough to be a random fact-of-the-day for all your friends, and will stick in the back of your brain for the rest of forever.

The first rule that everyone knows, but nobody talks about

Clop-clip, flop-flip, chat-chit, gritty-nitty. If you’re a native English speaker, it’s obvious that those don’t sound right and you’d be hauled away to the loony bin if your doorbell went “dong-ding” instead of “ding-dong.”

That’s thanks to something called ablaut reduplication — a rule stating that, if you repeat a word and change an internal vowel, the order you say them in has to follow I-A-O.

Prove us wrong, but deep down you know we’re right.

Next, why the Big Bad Wolf didn’t eat Red Riding Little Hood

In his book, “The Elements of Eloquence,” author Mark Forsyth points out that adjectives have to follow a specific order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose noun.

Someone had too much time on their hands…

It’s called the royal order of adjectives and explains why, for the Jim Collins fans out there, we can have “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” but absolutely not “Audacious Hairy Big Goals.”

Burlap ugly purse, plastic key small ring, yellow big taxi. All sound obviously wrong and now you know why.

But wait… then it should be “Bad Big Wolf”

True. You catch on quickly, young grasshopper. In this case we need to think back to the ablaut reduplication rule that says “I” before “A” which, as far as we can tell, appears to be first in the order of operations.

Mull it over and try to find exceptions. It’s way more fun than doing actual work. Just don’t dally-dilly.

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