Issue 124, page 1

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frequentatives

One of the delights of etymology is the discovery of unexpected connections between words and there is no richer source of these than the class of words known as frequentatives.  Never heard of them?  But you use them all the time.  For instance... when you are fond of something you might find yourself fondling it.  To fondle was formed simply by adding -le to the word fond and many other frequentatives are formed along the same lines.  Hey, This has a handle, a spindle AND a treadle!Thus, a handle is meant to be grasped by a hand, a spindle is used in spinning and one treads upon a treadle.

Both saddle and settle (meaning "bench") are frequentative forms of seat and a bundle (or bindle) is something which is bound.  A griddle is a kind of grill, a cradle is essentially a crate and when milk forms curds it is said to curdle.

Some are not so obvious, though.  To cuddle meant to be couth (i.e. "snug, cosy") and we lade soup with a ladle.  If we tumble we almost "perform an acrobatic feat" as this is what the old verb to tumb meant.  We use a bridle to pull at a horse's head because to braid  originally meant "to pull from side to side".   The word swaddle is seldom heard these days except at Christmas and then only in the form swaddling-bands.  These strips of cloth were once used to swathe (i.e. "wrap") babies.

Riddle is formed from the Old English word rede "advice, opinion".  This rede is the basis of theReady cash from Ethelred the Unready unready in the name of King Ethelred the Unready.  The epithet applied to this Anglo-Saxon king (968 - 1016) did not imply that he was unprepared but that he was unrede, "unadvised".  He simply wouldn't listen.

To paddle comes from the obsolete verb to pad meaning "to walk".  This is cognate with pedal "of the feet" (from Latin pes, pedis "foot"), path and even foot itself.  We also speak of the pitter-patter of tiny feet.  This -ter ending represents another way in which English forms its frequentatives.  Thus fetter and fettle (as in "in fine fettle") are really the same word.

A pig might gruntle ("make grunting noises") while it rootles ("searches for roots"), though we rarely hear gruntle outside of the word disgruntled.  A shuttle shoots and spittle is just a posh way of saying spit.   When we hurtle we cause a little hurt (originally "to strike") and in jostling someone we have a little joust with them. They might even  start (i.e. "jump") if we startle them. 

A candle may glimmer if it gives a little gleam or flicker when its light gives little flicks.  To flutter originally meant to move as if floating on the waves and a dribble is a series of drips.  A tramp might trample on your flower beds, then shove what's left with a shovel.  Try to wrest that shovel from the tramp's grasp and you might just end up wrestling with him. 

Well, we could chatter on all night like this but we'll stop lest you think us a pair of nutters with noddles full of babble.

How do we know all this stuff?  Why not visit our bookstore and find out?

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