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Fun With Fiddle Faddle and Other Pronunciation Pairs

by Sally Jennings

Want to add some fun to pronunciation practice with your students? The first list of pairs below is a list of "minimal pairs", words which differ from their partners in one sound only. The sound that differs may be a vowel or a consonant. I have added a second list for near-misses, which don't qualify as minimal pairs, but are interesting and fun.

My suggestion for classroom use: introduce students to each pair in a subset of this list, with definitions and explanations supplied by you, the teacher. Then ask each student or student-group to write a short story using as many of the pairs as possible. After the stories are done, exchange them between student groups and read them aloud.

For students: I have listed only one meaning. Some of these may have more than one meaning. If you are looking at this list on the Internet, open an online dictionary to look up words you don't know. Many of these terms may be found in the The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language. Many have both noun and verb uses.

  1. back pack (a knapsack)
  2. big wig (an important person)
  3. boob tube (early slang for television)
  4. boogie-woogie (a dance with a distinctive beat in the bass)
  5. boo hoo (to cry, usually with a loud noise)
  6. bow wow (the bark of a dog)
  7. boy toy (an adult fascination object, male-oriented, like a fast car or speed boat)
  8. brain drain (the emmigration of educated professionals to another geographic area)
  9. chitter chatter (chatter)
  10. chit chat (small talk, about the weather, or other impersonal trivial subject)
  11. clickety-clackety (the sound a train makes on the tracks)
  12. clip-clop (the sound of a horse's hooves)
  13. Coca Cola (a brand name soft drink)
  14. cop-shop (a police station)
  15. criss-cross (a kind of word-search puzzle)
  16. CV (short for curriculum vitae, a resume)
  17. dilly-dally (to do something slowly, waste time)
  18. ding-dong (the sound of the doorbell)
  19. fan-tan (a Chinese game)
  20. fat cat (someone who is rich and spoiled)
  21. fender bender (a minor car accident)
  22. fiddle faddle (an expression of exasperation)
  23. flim-flam (a deceitful move or comment)
  24. flip flop (in Canada, a thong-style sandal)
  25. Foxy-Loxy (a character from a children's story, Chicken Little)
  26. fuddy-duddy (a person who is too set in their ways, too strict)
  27. fuzzy wuzzy (from a children's rhyme, Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair)
  28. Georgie Porgie (from a children's nursey rhyme, Georgie Porgie)
  29. handy-dandy (used as an adjective to make fun of the usefulness of some new innovative item)
  30. hanky-panky (some secret activity, like a secret love affair)
  31. harum-scarum (reckless)
  32. hell's bells (an expletive)
  33. Henny-Penny (a character from a children's story, Chicken Little)
  34. heyday (the boom time or height of success for an idea, fashion, business, town)
  35. hickory-dickory (from a children's nurservy rhyme, Hickory-dickory-dock, the mouse ran up the clock)
  36. hi-fi (abbreviation of high fidelity, from the electronics industry)
  37. higgledy-piggledy (from a child's nursery rhyme, Higgledy-piggledy, my fat hen)
  38. hip hop (a style of modern dance)
  39. hippety-hoppety (the way a bunny jumps)
  40. hobo (a tramp, in the Dirty Thirties in North American, hobos travelled by jumping into empty boxcars on trains)
  41. hocus pocus (some tricky move in magic)
  42. Holy Moly! (an expression of surprise, somewhat outdated)
  43. hoity-toity (prim and proper, upper class)
  44. Hong Kong (a place)
  45. honky tonky (in the 1920's, a piano bar, also abbreviated honky tonk)
  46. hodge podge (or hotch potch, a mixed-up mess, also specifically a recipe for garden vegetables cooked with milk)
  47. hot pot (an electric pot to heat water to almost boiling)
  48. how now (part of children's nursery expression, How now, brown cow?)
  49. hubble-bubble (a hookah, a water pipe, also an uproar)
  50. Humpty Dumpty (an egg character from a nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall)
  51. Huncamunca (tragic heroine)
  52. hurdy gurdy (a hand organ played on street corners in the 1800's)
  53. hurly-burly (noisy confusion)
  54. jibber-jabber (fast talk, meaningless)
  55. jingle-jangle (the sound of keys or coins clinking, or bells ringing)
  56. King Kong (gorilla in movies)
  57. Kit Kat (a candy bar)
  58. knick-knack (small trinket or ornament to display on a shelf or wall)
  59. kowtow (from Chinese, to submit to, defer to)
  60. lovey-dovey (mushy, an expression making fun of affection)
  61. Mayday (distress signal)
  62. mish-mash (a mess, a hash)
  63. mumbo jumbo (a confusion of words thought to invoke magical power)
  64. namby-pamby (too sheltered, weak)
  65. night light (a low wattage light left on at night in a child's bedroom)
  66. nit wit (a stupid person)
  67. no go (a cliche for a refusal of permission)
  68. no show (someone who fails to show up when and where they promised to)
  69. Pall Mall (a brand of cigarettes)
  70. payday (the day employees receive their paychecks)
  71. pell-mell (fast, without thought, as in he ran pell-mell through the halls)
  72. picnic (an informal meal outdoors)
  73. Piggly Wiggly (a supermarket chain in the U.S.A.)
  74. ping pong (table tennis, a game)
  75. pinky-winky (child's expression for the little finger)
  76. pitter-patter (the sound of cat's feet, or rain on the roof)
  77. polo (a game)
  78. pot shot (a low blow at someone, on the off chance it will hurt them)
  79. pow-wow (a North American First Nations meeting)
  80. rag bag (literally the bag where rags are kept)
  81. razzle-dazzle (special effects designed to impress)
  82. rick-rack (a trim for clothing, in the shape of a zig-zag)
  83. riff-raff (low class people)
  84. rinky dinky (trashy)
  85. roly poly (to be fat, also a pillbug who curls into a ball)
  86. rootin' tootin' (outdated cartoon expression that intensifies a statement)
  87. sci fi (abbreviation for the literary genre, science fiction)
  88. seesaw (a teeter-totter, playground equipment)
  89. shilly-shally (to be indecisive)
  90. shipshape (neat, tidy)
  91. singsong (a chanting rhythm and tone)
  92. splish-splash (sounds made by a child stomping in a mud puddle)
  93. superduper (outdated slang for something that is new and innovative)
  94. T.B. (tuberculosis)
  95. teensy-weensy (also teeny-weeny, both mean tiny)
  96. teepee (North American First Nations tent)
  97. teeter-totter (see see-saw above)
  98. telltale (obvious)
  99. Tex-Mex (texas mexican food)
  100. tick-tock (the sound a clock makes as it ticks)
  101. Tic-Tac (a breath mint)
  102. tip-top (best, usually used with "shape" as in "he's in tip-top shape")
  103. tittle-tattle (gossip, tell on someone)
  104. Turkey-Lurkey (character in children's story, Chicken Litte)
  105. TV (television)
  106. youhoo (loud greeting to get someone's attention)
  107. walkie-talkie (a two-way radio)
  108. wheeler-dealer (someone who makes dishonest deals, usually quickly)
  109. wibbly-wobbly (wiggles under stress)
  110. wiggle-waggle (a child's term for the way a dog's tail moves)
  111. willy-nilly (here, there and everywhere)
  112. whing-ding (a party)
  113. wishy-washy (weak, unclear)
  114. wonton (Chinese dough pocket, with savory filling)
  115. zig-zag (back and forth in straight lines, like VVVVVVV)

The Cheat List (the almost but not quite minimal pairs, these differ in more than one sound, or have extra sounds inserted between the words)

  1. bric-a-brac (ornaments, clutter)
  2. clap-trap ( a fake story, something unbelievable)
  3. creepy-crawly (a snake or spider, or adjective to describe them)
  4. double-trouble (usually a put-down for twins)
  5. eager beaver (someone who is a little too anxious to do a task)
  6. even Stevens (equally, as in to divide equally)
  7. fee fi fo fum (from a children's story, Jack and the Beanstalk. The Giant says this when looking for a person to eat)
  8. Flicka, Dicka, Ricka (characters from children's books by Maj Lindman)
  9. flower power (from the 1960's peacenik movement, the power of good, rather than the power of arms)
  10. grandstand (the stage in a theatre setting, can be outdoors)
  11. handstand (to position yourself on your hands, upside down but vertical, is to do a handstand)
  12. heebie-jeebies (fright, goosebumps)
  13. helter-skelter (in a confused manner)
  14. high-five (slang for a congratulatory hit open palm to open palm with another person)
  15. hither and thither (here and there)
  16. hubbub (loud, confused noise)
  17. hullabaloo (loud, confused noise)
  18. humdrum (boring, everyday)
  19. hunky dorey (just fine)
  20. hustle and bustle (hurried and busy action)
  21. ill will (bad feeling toward another person, expressed rather than secret)
  22. itsy-bitsy (tiny)
  23. Jeepers Creepers (an subsitute expletive for the initials (JC) of Jesus Christ)
  24. knickerbockers (short pants that reach just below the knee)
  25. okey-dokey (old-fashioned slang for okay)
  26. Milly Molly Mandy (character from children's books by Joyce Lancaster Brisley)
  27. Mr. Green Jeans (Captain Kangaroo's supporting actor in the 1960's television show)
  28. nitty gritty (the basics that really matter, as in "get down to the nitty gritty" or something)
  29. rat-a-tat-tat (the sound of gunfire, or someone knocking on a door)
  30. razzmatazz (flashy display)
  31. Ricky Ticky Tavi (character in The Jungle Book)
  32. Rin Tin Tin (dog in a children's movie and television series, 1950's)
  33. skinny minnie (a woman who is too thin)
  34. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr (characters from children's books by Maj Lindman)
  35. slapdash (haphazard)
  36. snail mail (postal service, emphasizing the slow nature of the process)
  37. squeegee (a tool with a rubber blade to remove water from a flat surface)
  38. tic-tac-toe (naughts and crosses, X's and O's, a board game)
  39. toowit-toowoo (the sound an owl makes)
  40. topsey-turvey (upside down)
  41. true blue (loyal)
  42. tutti-frutti (flavor of ice-cream with candied fruit in it)
  43. upsy-daisy (said when lifting a child higher)
  44. vice-versa (the reverse of a sequence, note this is pronouced "vysa versa" with a "y" as in "cry", and "e" in "vice" is pronounced "uh")
  45. whipper-snapper (a child or younger adult, usually eager, naive, and energetic)

The source for some of these word pairs (a list with no definitions) was http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/echoword/echodata.html (check out this page for more, and a list of sound changes for some of these pairs)

For another fun exercise, try:
Speak Read Write Tongue Twisters

For a similar pronunciation exercise, go to:
Speak Read Write Minimal Pairs(with mp3 audio)
Speak Read Write Minimal Pairs Two

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