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There there

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 06, 2007

In Reply to: There there posted by Gary Martin on May 30, 2007

: : : : Where does the saying 'there there' come from, like what you say to someone when they are sad?

: : : Previous discussion at:
: : : //

: : : Anyone have something to add to the above?

: : The previous discussion at the link doesn't really answer the poster's question. Maybe no one knows why "There, there" is used in comforting. If I had to guess, I'd say the th- sound might be calming. It sounds soft, like a cushion. (Do speakers of languages with harsher consonants say the equivalent of "There, there"?) And the meaning of the word may ground comfortees by emphasizing their location in their bodies. ~rb

: Exact reduplications like 'there, there' are often used in baby talk - 'choo-choo', wee-wee' etc. I'm not sure why.

Good point, Gary, and one that implies that when we are at a very low point, even if babyhood is long past, baby talk can be soothing. "There, there" is often heard from someone trying to succor a soul in distress. As for the use of reduplicative baby-talk with real babies, there is a vigorous debate going on as to whether it is, in fact, helpful in the process of getting the baby to understand and start to talk, or a hindrance.

The OED has not overlooked "there, there":
[After citing other uses of "there" interjectionally,] "Hence there-there vb. trans., to soothe or comfort by saying these words."

Among the examples cited are: "1938 D. RUNYON Furthermore viii. 159 He..starts whispering, 'There, there, there, my itty oddleums'... 1968 J. SANGSTER Touchfeather xv. 180, I was sobbing my heart out on his chest and he was there there-ing me all over the place...1977 'E. CRISPIN' Glimpses of Moon xii. 240 There, There, sir. 1977 C. DEXTER Silent World N. Quinn 254 Joyce took the baby..and lovingly there-thered his raucous cries."