One of the wonderful laws of language that we know intuitively is the one that governs word order. It’s called the rule of ablaut reduplication. Native English speakers have such an ear for it that it’s highly unlikely they would ever get it wrong.

This rule explains why we don’t say zag-zig, or cross-criss, and rules out hop-hip dance.

For those of us who remember clocks that ticked, we say tick-tock, never tock-tick. The Kit Kat manufacturers knew instinctively that a Kat Kit would not sell. My kids grew up with the Ning Nang Nong (where the cows go bong) on Play School, and while this nonsense song does play with the word order, the title reassures us that Ning Nang Nong is the norm.

Reduplication in linguistics is when you repeat a word, sometimes with an altered consonant (harum-scarum, mumbo jumbo), and sometimes with an altered vowel: ding-dong and chit-chat.

So here’s the rule

If there are three words, then the order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O.

Mish-mash, tic tac, sing song, ping pong, King Kong.

Cool, huh?