WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Higgledy-Piggledy

Last week’s WOW, hurly-burly, spurred a discussion amongst friends of similar words meaning ‘craziness’ or ‘riot.’ That lead me to remember two books I purchased earlier this year but never cracked open: Collection of English Words Not Generally Used and A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, both by John Ray. They are a treasure trove of obscurity, ephemera, and general pieces of historical trivia that I love. Consequently, I found more words just as fun to say as ‘hurly burly.’

My challenge is to see how many I can work into future novels.

Your challenge is to say them aloud without laughing, or at least smiling.

Higgledy-Piggledy (adverb)

In confusion or disorder; late 16th century; rhyming jingle, probably with reference to the irregular herding together of pigs.1590s. Possibly arising as a vocal gesture formed from a pig, and the animal’s suggestions of mess and disorder. Reduplications in the h-/p- pattern are common (as in hanky-panky, hocus-pocus, and hinch(y)-pinch(y), an obsolete children’s game, attested from c. 1600).

Higgledy Piggledy, My Black Hen nursery rhyme, origin unknown.

Higgledy Piggledy, My Black Hen nursery rhyme, origin unknown. Gammer Gurton’s Garland: Or the Nursery Parnassus (published in 1810), puts a lascivious twist on this children’s rhyme (with the tale of Little Brown Betty), so it’s at least as old as the early 19th Century.

John Ray, in A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, says higgledy-piggledy inspired future etymologists to further rhyming pairs:

We have in our language many the like conceited rhyming words or reduplications, to signify any confusion or mixture, such as hurly-burly, hodge-podge, mingle-mangle, arsy-versy, kim-kaih, hub-bub, crawly-mauly, hab-nab.

Edward Moor, in his 1823 book Suffolk Words and Phrases; or, An Attempt to Collect the Lingual Localisms of That County, says Ray could have added:

… crincum-crankum, crinkle-crankle, flim-flam, fiddle-faddle, gibble-gabble, harum-scarum, helter-skelter, hiccup-suickup, hocus-pocus, hotch-potch, hugger-mugger, hum-drum, hum-strum, hurry-scurry, jibber-jabber, prittle-prattle, shilly-shally, tittle-tattle, and topsy-turvy. Many of these date to the 16th century.

Just for further Monday giggles, might I suggest watching “Sheldon Cooper’s Council of Ladies” from The Big Bang Theory, for a modern-day example of a hurly-burly of higgledy-piggledy jibber-jabber trying to cover up a workplace hugger-mugger.





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