Actually, I didn’t discover it because it’s been there all the time and I’ve just learned about it. And I’m sure that no linguistics professors want to keep this rule a secret; I just wanted to have one of those clickbait teasers suggesting a great conspiracy to keep language matters away from us. Because that would be the sort of weird world that would make my day.
This is a fascinating language quirk and if anything is worth a bit of blogging, this is.
This rule is a rule we all know, whether we know it or not. It’s something we all understand at a deep and instinctive level rather than an intellectual one. We know it because we do it all the time – and if the rule is broken we shudder with nameless fear.
It’s called the I A O Rule. Still not ringing any bells? It works like this. Whenever you repeat a word in a phrase, but change the vowel, the order is always I before A before O. Pitter patter. Tip top. Ding dong. Shilly shally. Hip hop. To see how deeply ingrained this understanding is in us, try it the other way around and try to avoid grimacing. Tat for tit. Zag-zig. Raff-riff. Brac-a-bric.
See, you knew this all along. You understood that language worked like this, even though you didn’t know that there was a hard and fast rule at work. Technically, the rule is referring to ablaut reduplication. The ablaut refers to the vowel change, the reduplication the word doubling, but it really doesn’t matter, does it? You knew it anyway.
Language. Where would we be without it? I mean, we’d sort of be in a world of endless mime, so language is probably good thing.