• Robb Grindstaff

A little chat-chit about the Bad Big Wolf

Clocks go tick-tock. Horses go clip-clop. Doorbells go ding-dong.


Why don’t they go tock-tick, clop-clip, and dong-ding?


And why is the game tic-tac-toe and not toe-tac-tic or tic-toe-tac?


Let’s have a little chit-chat about this and that. We won’t be having a chat-chit about that and this, however. And we’re not going to be wishy-washy about this.


There’s actually a rule you may have never known, but you do know it instinctively. It’s ingrained in your brain.


The rule is ablaut reduplication. No, you don’t need to remember that.

Remember this: I before A before O.


So, the game is ping-pong, not pong-ping. A mixed-up bunch of stuff is a mishmash, not a mashmish. It all just sounds right to our ear if it’s the I-A-O order, and it sounds weird and awkward if it’s in any other order.


There is also a rule about the order of adjectives. Did you know there’s a particular order to use when using more than one adjective? There is.

Opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose, then the noun.

For example, Little Red Riding Hood. Little (size) Red (color) Riding (purpose) Hood (noun). Riding Red Little Hood makes no sense.


A lovely large old round red Amish wood cattle barn. That’s a lot of adjectives, and we don’t normally use that many. But it makes sense and sounds right to the ear.


A round cattle lovely old wood large Amish barn. Not quite right. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? It doesn’t even make sense. Round cattle? A barn to hold large Amish?


What if the rules conflict with each other?


The I-A-O takes precedence over the order of adjectives. That’s why Big Bad Wolf is correct (I before A), rather than Bad Big Wolf (opinion before size).


While you think about all this, I’m off to have a KitKat bar and watch some TikTok videos.

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