Daily Archives: October 18, 2020

comme ci, comme ça, see-saw

“How are you doing?”

“Oh, comme ci, comme ça. You know, like a see-saw: up and down.”

“Wait. Is that where that comes from?”


See-saw. Does it come from comme ci, comme ça?”

“Nah, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“Did you look it up?”

“Yeah, I tracked it down. I went to Wiktionary and typed in see-saw and it said ‘Alternate spelling of seesaw.’ But when I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and typed in seesaw and it took me to the entry for see-saw.”

“Well, that’s kinda back and forth.”

“Yeah. But the etymologies were about the same. Wiktionary said it’s probably imitative reduplication, like teeter-totter, flip-flop, ping-pong, et cetera. Oxford also said ‘A reduplicating formation symbolic of alternating movement.’”

“Alternating. Well, so why isn’t it saw-see?”

“Same reason it’s not totter-teeterflop-flip, and pong-ping. We have a long tradition of using front-back rather than back-front vowels to signify the alternation.”

“Hmm… I feel kinda so-so about that.”

“Well, there’s always this and that. If you find an exception, it may seem like a big hoo-hah, but I wouldn’t shout ‘Whoo-whee.’ In general, it seems to start near and go to far, if the front of the mouth is near and the back is far. Just like this and thatneither here nor thereins and outs, and of course, in French, comme ci, comme ça: ‘like this, like that.’”

“Oh, right. That’s why it’s not ‘come see, came saw.’”

“Well, I’m glad you’ve conquered that one.”