A Long Time Ago In a Galaxy Far, Far Away


repeatedWORDS063Some of you may recognize the title of this post as the opening line of Star Wars, but have you ever thought about the grammatical accuracy of the “double use” of the word far? To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the practice of repeating adjectives or adverbs as I have always believed it to be correct. While some purists may disagree, I think that there is a reason for this repetition.

Last week, the matter was brought to my attention, courtesy of a bunch of guys at Quora. ((Source: Quora)) The question posed was:

Star Wars opens with the phrase “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Is that type of word repetition grammatically correct in English?

I immediately said yes (mentally, of course),  the rationale being that the repetition is for emphasis. Some of you – or maybe even many of you – may actually do the same thing every now and then. Consider this example.

I can’t believe he did that. I was very, very surprised.

I am also reminded of the words of the song American Pie by Don McLean.  (Although we really can’t count on lyrics to be always grammatically correct, can we?)

A long, long time ago…

While I was reading up on this topic, I came across varying opinions. In the Quora thread, a commenter presented a very sound argument about the legitimacy of repeating words. In fact, I learned a new term – reduplication. Those who have studied linguistics will recognize it as morphological process wherein a word is repeated. It can also be that only part of the word is repeated. The purpose of this repetition can be for additional emphasis or pluralization.

I also discovered another term which could be used to refer to the repetition of words for emphasis – palilogy. Merriam-Webster has a very useful definition. ((Source: Merriam-Webster))

A palilogy is a figure of speech that is a repetition of word or phrase for emphasis.


“He cannot be good, knows not why he is good, but stands good.”
“That answer is wrong, wrong, wrong!!!”

On the other hand, there are people who say that this practice should not be considered grammatically correct. Instead of the sentence I wrote above as an example, a “better” sentence would be:

I can’t believe he did that. I was extremely surprised.

While I see where they are coming from ((Say more with fewer words, right?)), I think that in many instances, reduplication and palilogy have their use.

What about you? What do you think about reduplication and palilogy?

Image via Simon and Garfield



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7 responses
  1. Tony Wilson Avatar

    Tom Jones/Johnny Cash/Elvis Presley not singing “green, green grass of home”

    Don McLean not singing “a long, long time ago” (American Pie)

    Ch…ch…ch…changes – David Bowie

    World would be a bland, bland place!

    Has to sound right though:
    large, large zit / small, small ant 🙁
    huge, huge zit / tiny, tiny ant 🙂

    I think the arena should govern the grammar. Poetry/(screen)play dialogue is much more forgiving than business reporting or encyclopedic writing.

    Curious term reduplication; logic would suggest that it would appear at least three times.

    1. Noemi Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Twigg

      Tony, now I have Steven Tyler singing j-j-j-jaded in my head.

  2. lancelot Avatar

    Your second example of palilogy technically classifies under epizeuxis, and what’s more – a triple-epizeuxis. Ex: Figarro! Figarro! Figarro! (or) Land, Land, Land (or) Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I’ve longed to bring you into my arms (or) Holy, Holy, Holy.

    As for the ch-ch-ch-changes, I think that’s more alliteration in poetic meter than epizeuxis, though you could find debate on both sides.

    1. Noemi Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Twigg

      I learned something new today! Thanks, Lancelot. 🙂

  3. Golda Mowe Avatar

    I think that reduplication tends to add a sense of ‘humanness’ to the text. For one thing, I can relate better to the character who says ‘I was very, very surprised’ compared to the one who says ‘I was extremely surprised’. Maybe it is because I used to emphasize myself with duplicates when I was young, so it feels psychologically comfortable. The second expression sounds like something my school headmistress would say.

    1. Noemi Twigg Avatar
      Noemi Twigg

      Hi Golda! I totally agree with you. I guess that’s why many people do this as well.

  4. Roby Hartland Avatar
    Roby Hartland

    In my opinion, reduplication and palilogy reinforce the idea that English is a living language and is subject to change according to cultural context. While I understand the opposing argument made by academics and professional linguists, I have to throw my chips in favor of a language that is maneuverable; where “rules” are really only soft guidelines and not rigid boundaries.

    It seems as if social media is becoming the vessel for navigating this new communication revolution, and many of our antiquated ideas about what is “acceptable” in written and spoken language will have little choice but to adapt along with it.

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