What is a feminine diminutive?

By: | Post date: 2016-01-09 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: English, Linguistics

A diminutive is “a word which has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment”: Diminutive . Well done there, Wikipedia.

So not so much an element of speech, but a modification of a word (typically a suffix), used to convey either that this is a smaller version of the thing, that the thing is cute, or that you like the thing/person.

So, a duck-ling is a small duck. A kitchen-ette is a small kitchen. A beast-ie is a cute beast. Annie-kins is Annie, who you like a lot.

When the cute/dear sense of the ending is dominant, you call it a hypocoristic . That is what is used by linguists to refer to English endings like –ie, which are much more about the cuteness than the smallness.

For the feminine sense, I refer you to Zhenrui Liao’s answer, for languages with grammatical gender. Languages without grammatical gender can still use a suffix just to refer to women. English could have gone that way (brun-ette, bachelorette), but hasn’t (kitchen-ette, leather-ette).

I can’t find it now, but someone on Quora has recently referred to the Australian English ending –ie as a feminine diminutive. Linguists call it a hypocoristic, because it’s much more about the cuteness than the smallness; and I’m not sure it’s even about the cuteness any more. (sickie for sick leave? mozzie for mosquito?)


  • John Cowan says:

    Or as Dame Edna (bless her heart) stage-whispers, “They say she’s had a hizzie in the hozzie”.

    • I am not of the generation that finds Dame Edna cute. Barry Humphries was part of a generation of anglos in the 60s that found Australia stifling and ran away to Britain. Clive James did proper penance for the lot of them, when he said that Australia even then was rapidly changing into a much more interesting place, thanks to multiculturalism, but they were all too stupid to realise it.

      Before Dame Edna became a parody of…. I’m not sure what, she was a parody of Middle suburbia, hailing from Moonee Ponds. Cities evolving as they do, Moonee Ponds is now rather hip, and certainly not suburban.

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