back to top

I Just Found Out Why We Say "Tick Tock" And Not "Tock Tick" And I'll Never Be The Same

English is a strange, confusing language.

Posted on

There are some phrases in the English language that just...sound right, you know? "Tick tock" has a much better flow than "tock tick," and "chat chit" — as opposed to "chit chat" — feels downright wrong.


Like, we'd never say we played "pong ping" while listening to "hop hip" and eating a "Kat Kit" after watching "Kong King," even though that actually sounds like a great time.


But have you ever thought about why all of that is? Is it simply because we're used to saying those things a certain way? Or is it a language rule that we don't realize that we know?


Well, we have an answer! According to writer Mark Forsyth, it's the latter. There's a little thing called "the rule of ablaut reduplication," he wrote in an article for the BBC, and it governs how we order words.


"Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (lovey-dovey, fuddy-duddy, nitty-gritty), and sometimes with an altered vowel: bish-bash-bosh, ding-dang-dong," the author of The Elements of Eloquence said.

"If there are three words then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O," he added.

Other examples Forsyth cites are mish-mash, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, and ding dong.

It's kind of like the new "I before E, except after C," except with a much fancier name.


But that's not all! Forsyth has also gained attention for pointing out another rule of English that most people likely don't think twice about — the proper order of adjectives.

Miramax Films

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun," Forsyth writes. That's why you'd never ask if anyone's afraid of the "Bad Big Wolf."


"You can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac," Forsyth says.

"It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.” Until now!

Comedy Central

So there you have it! You've been faithfully following a rule of English, and you probably didn't even know it! Bet you feel all smug and erudite now, don't you?


Top trending videos

Watch more BuzzFeed Video Caret right

Top trending videos

Watch more BuzzFeed Video Caret right
The best things at three price points