How often do you find yourself in a situation where you’re writing a letter or article and when you review it, you see you’ve written the same word twice? If you use a word processor, a good one will pick this up and highlight it for you. But how often is it actually correct to use multiple instances of a word?
Over the weekend, my daughter and I were deciding on when to go to the movies. She said she wanted to go to the late show, to which I responded with “Do you want the early late show or the late late show?” For a few moments, we looked at each other wondering if there was anything wrong with either the notion of an “early late” show or even the double-barreled “late late” show. “It’s OK,” I said, “to have ‘early late’ and ‘late late’ so long as we understand that ‘late show’ is actually a single noun meaning ‘a showing that is held in the evening at some indeterminate time, but such that it would not be considered early.’”
Before you stop reading, I should explain that yes, we do talk like that, especially when we’re having breakfast and just “chillin’” or “shooting the breeze” – though how you can shoot a gentle waft of air is probably best left for a future column. The more ridiculous the topic, the more we talk. “Of course,” I continued, “If the late show in question was now no longer in existence, we could have the sentence ‘We used to go to the late late late show,’ because this new use of ‘late’ refers to something now passed on.” This triple play of “lates” got us to thinking about how many such words you could get into a sentence legitimately. Examples such as “Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!” as said by an excited child who’s just been asked if he wants a trip to Disney or a free bucket of ice cream would be excluded. The sentence has to be coherent and valid.
So we moved on to the notion of a city having a “down town” area. If that area had a region that was depressed and unappealing, you could use the word “down” (as in “I’m feeling a little down today”) as a descriptor. You can thus have a “down down town.” Then, if that city was built on a slope –
At this stage, we were finding it hard to keep up, and as I was writing this article, my word processor was having a real hard time with so many multiples of the same word, drawing many red lines under them screaming “Stop it, that’s not allowed!”
This is not the longest word run of which I am aware. Stephen Pinker, in his book The Language Instinct, gives the following example: “The