Monday, December 15, 2014


Behold! You’ve never seen the likes of this before. A portion of this sentence, split between columns in an old Sports Illustrated article, is reminiscent of middle school kids attempting to calculate — the way only middle school kids can — the level of ardor a classmate has for a friend. So, do you like him, or do you like like him? On the inexact scale of affection, “like like” sits between like and love and is akin to a crush. This slangy doubling down, so to speak, is a form of reduplication. A word is purposefully repeated, and the first occurrence is emphasized as a way to indicate a “true” sense of the word and resolve any ambiguity.

This device is more popular than you may realize. It’s been employed, for example, in scenes from a couple of popular sitcoms. In “The Doodle,” an episode from Seinfeld’s sixth season, George is dating Paula, a woman in Elaine’s drawing class at The New School. He finds a doodle Paula did of him in which he “looks like a troll.” This worries George, so he asks Elaine to play the part of inquisitive schoolgirl and find out, at her next drawing class, if Paula likes him.

Elaine: Hey, Paula, I hear you’ve been going out with George Costanza.

Paula: How did you know?

Elaine: Everybody knows. You know, George told me he thinks you’re totally cute and everything.

Paula: He said that?

Elaine [nodding]: Do you like George?

Paula: Yeah! He’s cool.

Elaine: No, I mean … do you like him, or do you like him like him?

Paula: Like like. Looks aren’t that important to me, you know?

In a 2008 episode of The Big Bang Theory called “The Lizard-Spock Expansion,” Leonard dates Stephanie, a girl his pal Howard picked up in a bar by telling her he could sneak her into the Mars Rover control room and she could operate the $200 million government project. When Leonard, an experimental physicist, runs into his neighbor Penny in the apartment building’s laundry room, their conversation goes like this:

Penny: Oh, hey.

Leonard: Hey.

Penny: New shirts?

Leonard: Yeah, a couple.

Penny: Nice.

Leonard:  Thank you.

Penny: So, who’s the girl?

Leonard: I’m sorry?

Penny: Well, last time you bought a new shirt was when we were dating.

Leonard: So, uh, what we did was in fact dating?

Penny: Well, yeah, we did have a date.

Leonard: Exactly. Thank you. Do me a favor: Tell Koothrappali that next time you see him.

Penny: So, who is she?

Leonard: Oh, she’s a doctor.

Penny: Oh, nice. A doctor doctor, or a you kind of doctor?

Leonard: Doctor doctor. Surgical resident. Smart, pretty.

The linguistic use of stressed repetition isn’t confined to sitcoms, of course. The punch line of a 2007 Zits comic also was, ahem, down with reduplication.


In 2009, shortly after Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland at the request of U.S. authorities, Whoopi Goldberg created a maelstrom when she resorted to reduplication on The View while trying to characterize what the film director did to a 13-year-old girl in 1977. “I don’t believe it was rape rape,” she said.

Here are some other, less incendiary examples:

Are you going to read an e-book or a book book?

We’re taking that thing out on the water? When I agreed to go sailing, I thought we’d be on a boat boat.

 Let’s go out for dinner.
OK, how about McDonald’s?
No, I want to go to a restaurant restaurant.

 I’m a writer.
Nice. How many books have you had published?
None. I write blog posts.
Oh, so you’re not a writer writer.

 Ouch! I scratched my knee.
Oh, suck it up! You didn’t get hurt hurt.

 It was just a couple of friends having dinner together. It wasn’t a date date.

 He kissed you? Was it a peck on the cheek or a kiss kiss?

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. If you disliked it, I understand, but if you disliked disliked it, I don’t want to know.

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