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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.

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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.

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.

“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.