A friend sent me this article about why we don’t flip flop sounds. For example, why we say “flip flop” instead of “flop flip.” It all goes back to a couple of unwritten rules of English. Honestly, it’s not something I’d thought about before, but it’s pretty interesting (at least if you’re a logophile like me). I’ll give you a minute to skim through.
The Unwritten Rules of English
Make Sure We Don’t Flip Flop Sounds
I mean, we’ve all been drilled with “I before E except after C,” and many of us have taken great delight in pointing out how many exceptions there are to that rule (as adults, sadly. Few of us were lucky enough to know that many in Elementary School when we really needed it.). I have heard of the adjective rule as an adult (also long after I learned it subconsciously), but who ever heard about a rule for what order the words go in – based off the main vowel sound of the word?
It seems true though. I keep looking for loopholes. All I’m thinking of, though, are examples where it’s either true or true in repetition:
- flip flop
- ting tang wolla wolla bing bang (The rule is followed twice.)
- wibbley wobbley timey wimey (Twice again)
- flim flam
On the other hand, a lot of these examples (including their examples) are onomatopoeia and what we would call nonsense words (or simply less formal words). So is it true for more distinguished words and phrases?
The answer is “sometimes.” It also made me realized that more formal phrases rarely have that many words together in a string without a preposition, conjunction, or something to break them up.
For example, the original conversation this was posted on stemmed from the question of why we say, “thunder and lightning” instead of “lightning and thunder.” Personally, I would’ve given credit to Queen and moved on (and look at what I would’ve missed out on). At the same time, not all those sounds seem covered by the rule.
What about E? Or U? Where do they need to go? Why were they skipped?
Which leads me to the question – which language did this rule come from? After all, English is a bully, a language that’s really made up of a mish mash of other languages. It stands to reason, then, that this rule came from one of those languages. Possibly more than one.
Latin? German? Greek? French? Whence cometh this rule?
I did a quick search. No luck. Maybe someone less busy (and less lazy… although the other is also true) can give it a shot. Or a passing linguist could pause a moment to elucidate us on the matter (Hello? Anyone?).
Oh, well. At least, you learned something new today, right? Granted, you probably already knew it without knowing, but that counts! Especially since that’s how unwritten rules of English work.
Makes you really admire the subconscious, doesn’t it?