07 December 2016


Here's a nice little English thing. Those words that end in -le are frequentives. I tramp once, but if I do it a lot it's a trample. A lot of the original words are now lost. If you are in fine fettle for instance, there is no word for the single instance of being fet (fettle is from the Lancastrian dialect).

If scrambled eggs are too intense, then just ask for them to be scrammed once and leave it at that. Cuddle? No just one cud, please! Too many wrangs make a wrangle (wrang is the past-participle of wring). And so on. On the other hand a bell rings, and what a telephone does is, in fact, ringle.
Sometimes a frequentive is just avoided. I can stomp, but no matter how many times I stomp and I am not stompling.

However, there are a few faux amis. A "single" is not singing all the time. Single comes from a Latin word sim, with a diminutive suffix -lus, giving singulus (one, individual, unaccompanied). From this root we also get simple. Singulus in Middle French became sengle or sangle and by the 14th Century, English single.

I often ride, but this is not riddling. In fact riddle is an imposter that ought to be spelled riddel. Here the root is related to read (originally "to advise or counsel") and the original noun suffix was
-els. Some genius thought the s was an incorrect and so it was dropped. And then the -el became -le. Why this happened is a riddle in itself. There is another kind of riddle, a kind of coarse sieve, which ultimate comes from a Proto-Indo-European root *√krei.

"Disgruntled" is interesting, because we still have grunt, but we've lost the positive frequentive, gruntle. We can't be gruntled, but we can be dis-gruntled (which I often am). Gruntle means to grunt a lot. Something a pig is thought to do when content. Though I suspect a lot of things that people say about pigs are made up.

It gets more interesting when you create an agent noun by adding -er (almost the same as the Sanskrit form with -ṛ). To frequently whit is to whittle, and one who does this is whittler. Of if you often whis, you are whistler. Politicians are bullshittlers.

The origins of babble are not, as something, concerned with the story of the Tower of Babel, but with a now unknown word bab for a sound, perhaps onomatopoeic or imitative of baby talk. Bab bab bab.... babble.

I'll stop prattling now.

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