Ever wondered why we say “Ding Dong” or “Ping Pong” but not “Dong Ding” or “Pong Ping”?

Sometimes phrases just sound wrong, but we can’t explain why. At least not me.

Earlier this week, I ran across an online article and thought I’d share the gist of it.

It’s all about ablaut reduplication.

No, really.

The Ablaut Reduplication Rule

“Ablaut reduplication” refers to the expressive repetition of a single word or the paring of a word with another similar sound or spelling.

In the English language, the key vowel determines the word order. If there are three words, then the order must go I, A, O. If there are two words, then the first is I and the second is either A or O.

Mish-mash, chit-chat, tic tock, King Kong, ping pong.

Even Tik Tok.

The long E usually comes before the long I. Think E-I-E-I-O from the Farmer in the Dell.

Let’s explore another unwritten rule of the English language, curiously called…

The Unwritten Adjective Rule

Why do we say “Little Red Riding Hood” and not “Riding Little Red Hood”?

Adjectives in the English language must align with the following order to sound correct:

  • Opinion
  • Size
  • Age
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Origin
  • Material
  • Purpose
  • Noun

Our brains understand this, even if we can’t explain it.

We say miniature (size) toy (purpose), soldiers (noun).

Or Little (size) Red (color) Riding Hood (noun).

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the Big (size) Bad (opinion) Wolf (noun). The order is wrong, but it sounds right.


When in doubt, the first rule about the I-A-O order always prevails over the adjective word order.

Now you know.

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