20 weird and wonderful English expressions

Reduplicative English expressions 1

There’s an amazing variety of interesting and amusing expressions in the English language. Most are known by native speakers, but these English expressions are not commonly used in English coursebooks.

Develop your English vocabulary with these catchy expressions to sound like a native speaker. Just remember that these are generally informal expressions and more common in social situations.

Our English expressions focus on a specific type of English vocabulary (known as reduplicatives). Reduplicatives typically come in pairs and there are three main types:

  1. The first word is the same as the second word.
    chop chop (hurry up)
    bye bye (goodbye)
  2. The second word is very similar and rhymes with the first word.
    easy-peasy (very easy)
    super-duper (great)
  3. The second word is very similar but has a vowel change.
    chit-chat (friendly or gossipy conversation)
    hip-hop (type of music)

The repeating of parts of words is referred to as reduplication and demonstrates the fun that you can have playing with English words and phrases.

Our Top 20 catchy English expressions

We’ve chosen our twenty favourite British English reduplicatives to add to you growing knowledge of English expressions that are used by native speakers.

1. airy-fairy

[informal] [adjective]

unrealistic or impractical

"I get bored of listening to his airy-fairy ideas about getting famous in the future."

2. argy-bargy

[informal] [noun]

a loud argument or heated discussion

"There was a lot of argy-bargy outside the local nightclub on Saturday."

3. dilly-dally

[informal] [verb]

to waste time

"You can’t be late for your interview today, so don’t dilly-dally and get ready now!"

4. fuddy-duddy

[informal] [noun]

a person with old-fashioned ideas and opinions

"Don’t listen to that old fuddy-duddy. He’s ideas about education are so out-of-date."

5. funny money

[informal] [noun]

illegal or counterfeit money

"Some stores don’t accept €500 bank notes in case it’s funny money."

Reduplicative English expressions 2

6. higgledy-piggledy

[informal] [adjective, adverb]

untidy, disorganised or unplanned

"She keeps her office in such a higgledy-piggledy fashion that I’m surprised she can work properly."

7. hunky-dory

[informal] [adjective]

fine, very satisfactory, going well

"Thankfully, everything was hunky-dory with the trains on the way to work today."

8. hurly-burly

[informal] [noun]

an activity that is busy and noisy

"I now avoid the hurly-burly of Christmas shopping downtown by ordering everything online."

9. holy moley

[informal] [exclamation]

Used to express surprise or astonishment

"Holy moley. There’s torrential rain and a massive flood in my best mate's hometown."

10. itsy-bitsy

[informal] [adjective]

very small or tiny

"They live in an itsy-bitsy house in the countryside."

11. lovey-dovey

[informal] [adjective]

to show affection in public in an open or embarrassing way

"We were sitting next to this lovey-dovey couple on the bus. It was really distracting!"

12. namby-pamby

[informal] [adjective]

weak, indecisive or very sensitive

"I hate speaking to namby-pamby politicians about their failure to deliver on earlier promises."

13. (the) nitty-gritty

[informal] [noun]

the main facts or aspects of a situation

"We need to get down to the nitty-gritty so that we finish this meeting before 6 o’clock."

Reduplicative English expressions 3

14. okey-dokey

[informal] [interjection]

to show that you agree or accept something

"Okey-dokey. We’ll meet at 7 o’clock tonight outside the restaurant."

15. silly-billy

[informal] [noun]

a person who is acting in a way that is not careful or without thinking (used for children)

"Don’t be a silly-billy. You’ll hurt yourself if you’re not careful."

16. teeny-weeny

[informal] [adjective]

very small or tiny

"We weren’t impressed with our teeny-weeny room that the hotel gave us for our summer holiday."

17. shilly-shally

[informal] [verb]

to hesitate to make a decision or take to long to do something

"You need to shop shilly-shallying and decide if you want to accept that job offer."

18. topsy-turvy

[informal] [adjective]

confused or disorganised

"It has been a topsy-turvy start to the season for my local football club."

19. willy-nilly

[informal] [adverb]

(i) something happens without choice

"His wife was drawn willy-nilly into a family argument when they were visiting his parents."

(ii) to do something without planning or in a careless way

"Our grandmother decides willy-nilly what to buy us for Christmas."

20. wishy-washy

[informal] [adjective]

not clear or lacking substance

"He didn’t get the job because he only gave a wishy-washy description about why he would be suitable for the position."

Tips to develop your English vocabulary

Even native English speakers don't know all of the words in English, but it's great to increase your understanding of English words and phrases step-by-step.

For ideas and tips to develop your vocabulary and knowledge of English expressions we recommend visiting our English vocabulary blog. We also have free online lessons and regularly post free materials on social media (with the links to in the footer below).

We also provide English language courses in Munich and online via Skype. Our English trainers listen to your needs and set individual targets. We work together to develop your English language skills and improve your fluency so that you can advance to the next English level.